Saturday, April 25, 2015

My (not really) day off

Finally, I get a weekend day and a day off from the grueling, 12-hour training schedule of the CELTA course!

A day I can kick back, relax, chill out and do some intricate language analysis looking at meaning, form and pronunciation difficulties facing English language students in relation to my lesson plan. Ugh.

Yeah, my day off was no day off.  I began early in the morning on my first written assignment which is due on Tuesday. After three intense hours of writing, I'd completed 1/4th of it. When I got into the second part, I discovered it was a lot easier and got through that in an hour.  Unfortunately, I also discovered that I'd completely misread the instructions for the first part, and had to edit it to the point that most of my work from the morning was for naught.

In the afternoon, I came back to the writing assignment and finished parts 2 & 3. It was dusk and I needed a break. I went for a walk and satisfied my artistic creative side with recording some video.  The analytical part of my brain had been on overload for some time. I saw some cool stuff.

After the walk, I finished part 4 of 4. The hardest part was keeping myself from writing too much. I actually love analyzing language, and I could written on and on about it.  There's a word limit though.  Any submission more than 1100 words is an automatic resubmit.  My word count for my completed task: 1099 words.

If you've watched any of my previous videos, you know that a standard Joko video takes edited chunks of footage and compiles them with an appropriate and hopefully compelling piece of music. That's my formula. I've done it so many times now that I've gotten bored with it and I'm looking to do something different. The problem is that Yangon and Bangkok are such obnoxiously loud places that I don't want to use the original audio. You don't get to hear what you're seeing in my videos because it's bad audio.

Suburban Chiang Mai is different though. It's quieter here. For the first time ever, I've made a video of a place here in SE Asia with no soundtrack. You hear what I was hearing. I think it gives it a certain ethnographic film quality to it that I don't get when I try to make it into something you'd see on VH1.

Video notes:

0:00 – The first 13 seconds of the video are scenes from my hotel, the Asaradewi Resort and Spa, here in suburban Chiang Mai, near Hang Dong.

0:35- That farang you see is Sylvester! If you've been following my CELTA Notes thread on the Staffroom board, you know about Sylvester.

1:08 – I'm just strolling through the neighborhood, and this comely old lady sitting in a road-side gazebo calls to me and gestures for me to come sit with her. Sure. Why not? She even speaks a few sentences of English. After about 30 seconds of sitting with her, trying to make small talk, she sticks out her hand and says something. I shake her hand. I didn't understand it at the time, but on review of the video, I now hear her say “Ha sip Baht” Fifty Baht ($1.60). A minute or so later, when I decide to leave, she says something I did understand, which was 'Sip Baht', 10 Baht. It's not like she was even photogenic, and she called ME over, what's this asking for money stuff? I knew I had no change, but I dig into my pocket anyways, and then say sadly, “Ohh... mai mee” (I haven't got it).

2:00 – The viciousness and valor of the animal kingdom. While the camera was not running, I saw something I'd never seen before. A rooster was viciously pecking away at a newborn chick trying to kill it. Amongst animals, I knew that males frequently try to kill babies that are not of their own bloodline, but how would a chicken even know which chicks were his or not? I think it was just straight up trying to kill possible future competitors for food. You'll see the defenseless chick lying prone on the concrete. What kept the chick from dying was a juvenile chicken running up and intervening. It distracted the big cock and let the lone chick recover enough to run away. I don't get it. This juvenile couldn't have been the chick's mother. It doesn't look old enough to roost. It might have been a sibling from another brood, but I didn't think chickens have any sibling protection instinct. The whole thing was over in a few seconds, but it left me befuddled.

2:36 – A Thai cowboy was leading a cow down the road with another one untethered behind it. The trailing cow stopped at the main road to eat some particularly succulent roadside grass. The cowboy and lead cow kept going and were getting further and further away. I call out, “Hey, you're missing one!” (like he could understand that), and then I decide to help and cross the road intent on picking up the lagging cow's tether and herd the beast across the road. When I walk up, the cow raises its head and gives me a look. When an 800 pound animal of any kind gives you that look, you stop. You'll see in the vid how the professional does it. He skirts around the back of the cow and gets its lead from behind. Don't charge a cow. They're likely to charge back.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

So, You Want to be an English Teacher?

I've worked in several places where I've heard co-workers note: "Yannow.. They should make a reality TV show out of us working here! Life here at the home improvement store would make a great reality show with all these strange customers coming in...asking us all these strange questions. It'd be perfect!"

Umm. No. It wouldn't.

Great reality TV needs things like an exotic location with a diverse cast of odd personalities from all walks of life. It needs people enduring real hardships and being forced way out of their comfort zones. There needs to be drama. Crying. Laughing. Desperation. Mental breakdowns. People hooking up behind the scenes (that hasn't happened yet, but it probably will). Cast members leaving the show because they can't handle it anymore. In other words, a CELTA course like the one I'm taking now would make a great reality TV show. We've had all of that.

So, You Want to be an English Teacher? I even got a title for it!

Here in day three, two students were unable to deliver their lessons. One stayed on with the promise that she'd make it up later. One left the facility and went back to the hotel. A third trainee ended his lesson 5 minutes early and then just walked off the site without word to anyone. Some of the other teachers and I talked to this last guy encouraging him to give it a go. Three breakdowns on day three. It feels like an episode of Survivor.

One of the trainees who couldn't bring himself to deliver his first lesson was in my TP group. I really like the guy, and I hope he pulls himself together, although I'm leaving the counseling to folks with whom he's a little closer. In any case, I was asked to cover his lesson. These students paid money for their course, and we couldn't just cancel the class. I only had to lead games and activities for 45 minutes. Filler stuff, so it wasn't hard. In fact, I enjoyed the opportunity to show the other trainees some of my favorite ways of wasting time and goofing off in a classroom. The students had fun and maybe learned something, at least.

I got my trainer evaluation back on my first TP. Yeah, I've got a lot to work on. In the back of my head, I sorta knew I had a tendency to do too much teacher-lead learning and not enough student-centered-activities, but it was different seeing it on paper. The suggested solutions to that were surprising to me as well. More worksheets? Really? Alright. You're the experts.

In any case, although I've only known these troubled trainees for a few days, seeing others fall apart isn't something anyone with a heart enjoys. Unfortunately, just like with Reality TV shows, that's part of this experience.

Time to lesson plan.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Chiang Mai Two: Ancient and New

Wat Chedi Luang
It was my first full day in the city that will be home these next 5 weeks.  A logical place to start exploring it was at it's heart.  The center of the old city.  The 604 year old temple smack dab in the middle of town. Wat Chedi Luang.

After that, submitting to the drenching I was getting from the Songkran Water Festival, it was off to the Paradise Art Museum, a very interesting place featuring modern, 3D illusionary art.

Here's the video.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Chiang Mai: First Impressions

Hello folks!  I'm writing to you from my fabulous hotel suite here in Chiang Mai Thailand.  I've been in this picturesque Northern Thai city for about 48 hours now, and I thought I'd take a moment to share some thoughts and feelings on the place so far...

This first bit I wrote the evening of my arrival on Sunday night.  I was a bit frustrated.  In Myanmar, the April "Water Festival" didn't start until Monday. In Thailand, it started a day early, catching me totally unaware...


Chiang Mai is geographically closer to Yangon than it is to Bangkok. It's only a couple hundred miles, and when I flew here today, I flew in a propeller plane for the first time in my life. I've flown a couple hundred times on a couple hundred different planes, and all of them have been jets.

Air Bagan's weekly YGN-CMX flight
Flying in the prop plane was cool. At the outset I misheard the pilot describing our flight plan when he said we'd be climbing to 70,000 feet... No, that couldn't be it. He must have said 17,000 feet, which is where we went. After we crossed the mountains dividing Myanmar from Thailand, that height made for an awesome spectacle of riding the tops of clouds, and there were lots of clouds. Big, fluffy, white cumulous clouds, and we were one with them.

My first impressions of Chiang Mai weren't good, and you know what they say about first impressions. I got soaked in clothes I wasn't expecting to get soaked in. See, even though I wasn't meeting anyone, even though I was on vacation, there's something in me that says I should wear somewhat respectable clothes when traveling on an international flight. I don't wear shorts and flip flops when I travel overseas.

As my chartered songtauw (semi-covered pick up truck taxi) rolled into the Chiang Mai proper, I realized something that I wasn't fully expecting: Thailand's Water Festival is already in full swing (in Myanmar, it doesn't start until tomorrow). On the outskirts of town, there were water stations of aqua-terrorists set up on the side of the road, ready to attack any target. By my observations, their targets were people carrying water guns and/or people who were already wet. Fair enough; none of the Thais messed with me.

When I arrived in the heart of town, into the tourist district, things changed. Folks accosted me in the back of my pick-up taxi, chucked buckets of ice cold water or hit me with high powered spray guns. JESUS CHRIST, I'm sitting here with two bags of luggage, wearing a collared shirt, dress pants and formal shoes. I am NOT participating in this festival right now, thank you very much. What really pissed me off is that it wasn't the locals who were dousing a new arrival who was not
One nice thing about the tourist part of town: the restaurant I
happened to wander into had amazing gourmet hamburgers.
Behold! The Macaroni and Cheese Burger!
expecting this. It was punk-ass farang tourists! WTF?! You are NOT Thai. You don't get to use Songkran as an excuse to be a complete ass-hole!

I got to the hotel (a complete dump; I'm glad I've only booked for a night), changed into more water-festival appropriate attire and headed out again, just looking to explore this new place, Chiang Mai. I got a feel for it, but once again, it was a dodging game trying to avoid the worst of the foreigners who'd become so troublesome. It is exciting at the moment, I'll give you that, but probably no worse time to come here if one wants to learn what it's really like. I'm here for six weeks. Tonight was the first night. I'll have time to learn.

Some first impressions of Chiang Mai:

  • Transportation. Thailand's second largest city has no buses. Huh? There are the aforementioned Songtaws and the ubiqutous Tuk Tuk's but no motorcycle taxis. No metered taxis. I've heard of Chinag Mai's pedicabs, the samlors, but I didn't see one tonight. Could have used one. A tuk tuk driver managed to charge me 200 baht ($6) to drive me 2 miles, and its not like I didn't put up a fight.
  • Farangs. Foreigners. I thought there were a lot of foreigners in Bangkok, down on Sukhumvit Road. Wow. The Phae Taw, eastern gate, district of Chiang Mai I'm staying in has seemingly a farang majority. Swimming in them here.
  • Climate. Nice. It's the height of the hot season in Thailand, and it was cool here tonight.
  • Food. For dinner, I stopped at a restaurant not too far from the hotel. It was a gourmet burger joint. Seriously. It was gourmet. I can't recall a burger I've had in the States that was better than the one I had tonight. In Yangon, finding a decent hamburger is a real challenge; here, I found an incredible burger delicacy on the corner. I can't wait until I'm hungry again. Chiang Mai has wonderful (western) food.
  • When I went to go do some banking (I maintain a Thai bank account), I found that there's a brothel at the end of the street where I'm staying. Now, that's convenient.
  • These haven't been the best of circumstances, and I recognize that there's variances in any group of people, but on the whole, the northern Thai people I've interacted here (with the exception of one tuk tuk driver) have been nicer, friendlier and more respectful than the average Thai I ran into in Bangkok.

Chiang Mai is often portrayed as a paradise of Southeast Asia. It's the mainland's Bali. So many farang fall in love with this place, and you never know, I might as well. As first impressions go, the Songkran Water Festival might be the funnest time to be here, but it might also be the worst time to get a feel for what it's really like.


So that was the end of night one... Things got better. Here's me at the end of day two at a nice place beside the Ping River.  A lot more serene feeling.

The video of the trip... sans the nastiness of getting unexpectedly drenched. I didn't dare bring out my camera with that going on...

Saturday, April 11, 2015

On the Eve of Thingkran

The cultures of Southeast Asia are diverse, but there's an underlying regional spirit that unites this place. I've been to six of the ten nations of ASEAN and lived in three of them. When I walk around Myanmar, I see Indonesia. I see Bangkok. Tomorrow, I'm off on a six week adventure in northern Thailand. Although I've recently re-injured my back, and I know I have to take it easy (no repeat of my Indonesian fiasco), I can't wait to explore this next corner of a new, yet somewhat familiar, place. It's going to be different, but not overwhelmingly so.

It's funny feeling like a veteran here. I wrote a couple blogs ago about cultivating novelty, and I don't want to downplay the importance of that. That said, in my day to day to life here, even though my language skills still aren't what what they will be, I've gotten used to this place. I know what I'm doing here.

Whilst I'm gone, the cockroaches are going to have
a major party in my aprartment.
Of course, the one thing that will dominate my six weeks will be the four weeks of my CELTA training right in the middle of it. I'm going to go do training to teach me how to do the job I've been doing for the last two years. I'm going to repeat training I received two years ago, but on a marginally higher level. If my employer wasn't paying for this, there's no way I'd be doing it. The only allowance for overconfidence I grant myself is that I know I'm going to pass the class. The thing is, there's different levels of 'passing' the CELTA. There's the 'pass' (the lowest), the 'pass B' and the 'pass A'. 70% of participants earn a 'pass'. 15% percent get a 'pass B' and 5% get a 'pass A' (add those up and you'll find the fail percentage – tuition not returned). I endeavor to get a 'pass B'. I know this stuff. I've already done a similar course. With a couple exceptions, I've always been really good in any classroom learning situation. Check with me again in six weeks and whether or not I get that 'pass B'.

What I do know is that one obstacle to getting that higher score might be my very familiarity with the material. One thing I definitely have to guard against is being cocky. I can't let an attitude of yeah, yeah, I already know this shit creep into my interactions with my trainers and fellow students. That would be a mistake. I don't know if I'm going to feel that way or not, but I am prepared for it and won't let it influence my role as the humble trainee who humbly appreciates the wisdom of his more experienced teachers.

We'll see what Chiang Mai is going to be like. I'm arriving on the first day of Songkran, the biggest, wildest, holiest festival of the Thai (and also Myanmar) year. I'm going to get a lot of water thrown on me; I know that for sure. Will it match what I experienced last year here in my neighborhood here in Yangon? I hope not. I don't want matching. I want different.

Here's last year's Songkran... called Thingyan here in Myanmar.


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 ...