I left California 5 months ago and have been at my job here a little over 3 months. That is longer than I have been away from home before and the longest I have had a full time job since I have been a student my whole life and therefore could only work full time in the summers. Before I left home, I wasn’t sure how much I would like it here but I knew I wanted to at least give this living abroad thing a try; so, I told people I would probably be gone 7 months (1 month TEFL training and one semester teaching). Now, I would be so sad to leave in just a couple months because time is going by so quickly and happily. I’m not sure how long I want to stay but since I love it more everyday… well, we’ll see!
It is weird to be so settled into a routine here since most people are on a travelers schedule when they come this far from home. In a way, however, I feel like this is not much different than going out of state to college. I didn’t come with any friends from home, I have no family nearby, and I can’t go home to do laundry for free! Besides friends and family, there isn’t much from home that I urgently miss. I have no problem eating rice twice a day and there are just as many great foods here that we don’t have at home that I rarely eat Western food. Going out to eat here is so cheap that I haven’t cooked one meal since I left home! I make good money for what the cost of living is, I can go to a new beach every weekend nearby, and there are plenty of new places to explore in this region of the world. Plus, it is never cold here! It is dry season right now so I have been enjoying nothing but sunny days but even when the wet season starts, I won’t be wearing any more layers, just a thin plastic poncho for driving.
Speaking of driving, Thai drivers never cease to amaze me here. Girls drive manual bikes with foot gears wearing stilettos, young children drive themselves to school even though the driving age is 18, and only half of them at the most wear their helmets. They do, in fact, carry the helmet in their basket but will not put it on their heads. I even saw a guy holding his helmet above his head so that the windshield part would protect his eyes since he was driving so fast, but he wouldn’t just put it on! Many tourists don’t wear their helmets either which drives me crazy, and they get pulled over and fined the second a cop sees them. There are many motorbike accidents but the likelihood of you getting in one is directly related to how crazy you happen to drive. Tourists must understand that they should wear their helmets and not drive in the same manner as the Thais because they aren’t nimble nor will they be forgiven for anything. And when Thai people cut you off, don’t give them the finger, even if they are wrong, because when they are wrong, they’re still right. The “finger” got at least 2 tourists stabbed to death this year.
I actually read the news often here whereas I rarely did at home, perhaps because the news is a new kind of shocking here. The news is not so much about politics and foreign affairs but more about tourism and scandals. Photos pertaining to tragedies are very insensitive and the “queer news” section is pretty absurd. Like a naked drunk man breaking into a house to rape a particular girl but going into the wrong room under the wrong mosquito net only to get clubbed with a cleaver by her mother.
I am learning a lot more Thai now and it is teaching me so much. I realize that the things for which Thais or other Asians are criticized when they speak English all have reason. The Thai language is, in theory, very simple. They don’t have any tenses or any pronouns and have very few adjectives. Also, they don’t use “yes” and “no” the way we do. They have what translates to “yes” and “not yes” but mostly their reply pertains directly to the verb in the question. So you ask if they have any tofu and they say “have” basically. If you ask if they can lower the price they say “cannot.” This is what Thai directly translates to so when they speak their broken English, this is what they say. Once you know your Tinglish, it helps you to communicate with by ordering your words the way they do. It is kind of sad to me that they lack variety and quantity in their adjectives because they lack descriptive qualities that we take for granted. They have a word that translates to “beautiful” and they must use it to describe everything that is pleasing. In English, we could say cute, pretty, attractive, precious, etc. when describing a person and many other adjectives when describing objects and places but if you looked up all those words in a Thai-English dictionary, I think they would all bring you to this one word. Fortunately, this makes it easy to speak and understand Thai, but reading and writing it is another challenge entirely.
The Thai teacher works very hard to get the students (yes, my 3 year old students) to practice their handwriting. Right now it is tons of tracing letters everyday and in the next levels, it is tons of handwriting practice. The Thai teacher will get charged money when the students’ handwriting is not perfect. The English teachers must correct all slight imperfections on their writing but we don’t get fined. And in Pre-K we don’t connect the dotted lines of English letters, we only teach recognition of the letter and some vocabulary. While it is a big challenge to teach specific classroom setting curriculum to 2 and 3 year olds, I love this age group so much that I’m teaching Pre-K again on the new school year starting in about 6 weeks. So, I will be turning babies into students all over again! My students have come a long way this semester. They went from staring blankly at me while I teach a lesson, to pointing at their lunch plate and saying “teacher, egg!” or pointing at the crossing guard and saying “teacher, policeman!” I’ve come a long way with my teaching as well because now I know what to do to keep their attention. There were lessons in the past where I knew none of them had learned anything but now they are exclaiming what they have learned outside the classroom, and that is what makes me love teaching. I’m also developing close relationships with them and can tell they are really becoming attached to me as well.
Everyday after work and sometimes on the weekends, I have been going to Bikram yoga. Bikram yoga is a 90 minute session of postures involving balance and strength in a 105 degree room. I have tried regular yoga a couple times before but this makes that look like fake easy yoga. Hot yoga is good for every bone, joint, organ, and gland in your body and is a great preventative and healing medicine. I was lucky to be good at it right from the beginning, which also kept me coming back everyday. The instructors are certified by Bikram himself but since it is not that popular here yet, my classes only have no more than 8 people in them. In LA and London, they can have up to 70! So I am getting great personal feedback and have a very good relationship with all of the instructors. They really feed my ego with their comments on my progress and encouragement to go to teacher training. I wouldn’t mind going back to the states to get the Bikram certification and coming back to Phuket to teach yoga here, that’s how much I love both of those things.