Goin’ to Indonesia With an Achin’… in my Heaaaart

No, there’s no ache in the heart. Just tons of excitement. I guess I’m just channeling a bit of Zep after last night’s karaoke party. I just kind of wanted to give an announcement of our departure and kill time on our last day of “teaching”, but I guess I can also work in the fact that we had a little birthday party for Wayne last night at the nearby “Green Restaurant”. Or… “Pink Restaurant” as some people call it. Or… “Gan-Eng” or “Kan-Yeng” as it’s actually called. We’ve become friendly with the darling (and excellent English-speaking) owner, Villapa, and we’ve recently become aware that the upstairs room can be booked for karaoke sessions, so we did. Things got silly. This happened:

an intentional, emotional collapse whilst singing "zombie" with grace... similar to a dean-calonder-lip-syncing-andrea-bocelli's-"caruso"-circa-1997.

So did this:

at the command, "point to your name and look happy!" i'll include that no alcoholic beverages had been consumed before this photo. i realize it may sound like i'm being facetious, but i'm not.

the always-lovely villapa, eugene, grace, venice

i decided i needed a change and, inspired by pictures from 2008, decided to chop off my bangs (er, "fringe") about 2 hours before the party.

We also took Ollie to Nakhon Si Thammarat yesterday to an animal hospital that’s taken him for all of 1500 baht for 19 days! (That’s $50. I don’t know how I’ll ever live in a first world country again.) They seemed really nice and caring, but it was hard to say goodbye to the little guy! I hope he still loves us when we come back. Also there’s this amazing billboard I’ve admired every time I’ve gone to Nakhon, and since we were on the motorbike yesterday I was able to take pictures of it.

i think i want to paint a picture of it.

Okay, I think that’s the last of the updates! Not sure I’ll be posting from Indo but expect some excellent stories upon my return in 2 weeks. Stoked!


Updates from Good Ol’ Thung Song

With all the weekend getaways I realize it’s been awhile since I’ve provided any insight into the goings-on around our humble little town. Here’s what’s been keeping us busy in these parts:

1. colorful chickies.

this didn't actually keep us busy for more than the minute it took to fawn over them and the 10 seconds it took to snap a few shots, but what a hilarious (though, i fear, ethically questionable) item to come across in the market. there were also normal-colored ones and little ducklings up for grabs as well.

2. comically branded instant drink powder. (also has not kept us very busy.)

3. “The Big Noodle Pot,” or the annual Kanom Jin festival.  I wrote recently about the adult English classes we’ve been giving for the past 2 months. Very frequently we’re forced out of our normal room, or our numbers are particularly low, on account of “meetings” that are going on. At one point I mused to Wayne, “Exactly what do you think all these meetings are about?” That very day we were given an answer– many of our students wouldn’t be attending class the following Tuesday in order to attend a meeting about “the Big Noodle Pot” the following day. It was a very enlightening moment, to learn that these big important meetings are, at times, focused on noodles.

Anyway, “Kanom Jin” is a bit of a misnomer, on all accounts. Kanom is the name Thais give to any number of little… snack-like things (one friend commented that if it contains flour it can be called “Kanom,” but even that’s not exactly an accurate definition either). They’re often sweet, but not always. Morning goodies made of sticky rice and coconut, wrapped in banana leaves are a type of kanom. Bread is kanom pangKanom Jin is literally “Chinese Kanom,” but they’re thin, flimsy rice vermicelli noodles. Not sweet. Not made of [wheat] flour. And we don’t remember seeing anything like them in China, ever. (Though French Toast isn’t exactly French, or Toast, now that I think about it, so maybe that’s an English equivalent). The noodles are topped with a variety of colorful, flavorful (sometimes quite spicy!) sauces. It’s very popular fare in these parts, often, strangely (to us Westerners), as a breakfast food. Though not huge fans of the dish, we thought it was our responsibility as Thung Song citizens to at least steal a glimpse of the Big Noodle Pot, and support our new friends and students.

a big pot indeed! 3,384 kilos of sauce.

notice the fellow farang. we don't know him, but we saw a few that came out of the woodwork for the festival.

look who it is! (two of our students, mod and chanida.)

kanom jin, in all its glory. the greenish sauce is the most common but they were afraid it would be too spicy for us (warranted concern) so they insisted we try the sweeter red sauce as well.

thailand in a nutshell: gorgeous sunset, larger-than-life portrait of the king and queen, and a kanom jin eating contest.

because, really, what's a food festival without a bit of grotesque consumption? (note the guy bottom left.)

overwhelmed at all the kanom jin.

4. New work permits! Back in June I gave notice that after a month-and-a-half of employment at Satree Thung Song I’d finally been awarded a Work Permit. And then in November I mentioned that in the process of our “Big Transition,” we had to turn those Work Permits in to be canceled, since our former agent would have continued being taxed on them for as long as they were valid. Or something. This did raise questions as to the status of the legality of our presence in Thailand, since our visas were technically contingent on the possession of Work Permits, but those were decided to be insignificant details and we were successful in not getting deported before getting a new visa in Penang. Whew. *Wipes brow.*

And now, just four months after gaining employment at our current school, we’ve succeeded in attaining our new Work Permits (and complimentary 1-year visas)! It only took wasting a bit of money on photos of sizes we didn’t need, scrambling for the correct documents, ditching 2 days of school, and scrounging up the $200 (unfortunate, so close to our big trip and all, but unavoidable I suppose) for the fees. But hey, at least now we can get into National Parks at a reduced rate.

i guess correct spellings of middle and last names are also insignificant 'details'.

trimming photos to the necessary 2" after spending the big bucks on 3" photos (on the instructions of our contact in the municipality.)

voila! they've gone with a new format and everything. my favorite part, if you can see it, is the 'no. of an alien' tag above the picture.

And that’s really it. Oh yeah, we got Ollie fixed on Friday in hopes of making him less aggressive and maybe a little more docile in general but after about a day of letting the anesthetic wear off he’s back to his old barking, hyperactive self. Oh well… I suppose he’s still young. Leave TS for Phuket Thursday night; Phuket for Bali on Friday morning! Coconut wait:).

Yours Truly,
Angela Maria Colender (I suppose it was far too much to ask that anyone in Thailand get that last name right, considering how infrequently it happens in my home country.)

Maggie May (aka Magnet, Magfees, Magmags, Magnificent, Bad Dog, Big Dog, and [of course] Houuuund Doggie!)

Wow. It’s been a bad year for pets. First our second rabbit, Jinx died mysteriously after a week, in my hands, as we sped off to the vet. Then… Ollie got a little too rough with my darling Trix Rabbit.

But these seem like small ordeals compared to more recent events. For all the exciting and exotic adventures one gets to experience in this lifestyle, there’s a definite tradeoff. You’re forced to miss out on special times, good and bad, back home. I’ve missed birthdays, holidays, graduations, weddings… each tugging at my heart and leaving me feeling a bit of sadness and, at times, guilt at being absent during times of general togetherness.

When my brother Ryan informed me in January that our “Big Dog,” Maggie, had been diagnosed with lymphoma I felt this especially strongly. As an Army family we moved around a lot when I was younger so pets (or, at least pets without exoskeletons or gills) were never really practical. Our move to Virginia in 2002 had a greater sense of permanence to it; my decision (and brothers’ subsequent decisions) to study at the University of Virginia and my dad’s almost simultaneous retirement from the military in 2005 kind of solidified that. Still, imagine my surprise when, just a month before I set off to Charlottesville, I came home from work to find this little scamp snoozing amongst my family’s feet as they watched TV.

An underweight, 6-month-old pup originally named “Brandy” quickly grew into a big 80 pound hooooound doggie! She was a bit insane, always barreling up and down the stairs and threatening to topple over any visitor who came to the door. I loved to refer to her as “Bad Maggie,” and she seemed like the wiliest, rascalliest thing– until my family got Moose two years later (conveniently coinciding with Ryan’s departure for college, I should add) when, by comparison, she almost instantly became the ‘big sister’– more mature and reserved. (Don’t be fooled… she was still plenty naughty when she wanted to be.)

I’d grown to love Maggie as much as anyone, though admittedly the timing of her arrival and all my travels made it so that I spent far less time with her than the rest of the family. After the initial shock of the diagnosis, things took a quick turn for the better. She was put on seemingly instantly effective chemotherapy, I helped my mom research some dietary changes to be made, and until about two weeks ago all the reports I got back from my parents were very positive in nature. I allowed myself to feel confident she’d tough it out until my return home this fall.

She had a recent relapse which was also seemingly reversed fairly quickly, though it reminded us all that it might be a bit foolish to get our hopes up too high when dealing with this kind of illness. Apparently all last week she was in noticeable pain and yesterday my family had to make the difficult but appropriate decision to end her suffering. It’s been hard to be far from my family as they’ve gone through this painful time, especially these final moments, but I’m so blessed with their support and understanding, and to know that they know my thoughts have been with them through it all. I’m sad that Maggie won’t be waiting at the door to dig her claws into my stomach when I make it home in September, but relieved to know she’s no longer in pain. Having spoken to my mom and my brother, I know this is a time of relief as much as anything for my whole family. Goodbye Magfees (my idiotic pet name of choice for the ol’ girl), thanks for seven excellent years.

a song collaboration between my brother and me. lyrics included on the actual youtube page.

And I suppose I’ll take this opportunity to offer a few words on my thoughts about nutrition and cancer (and nutrition and illness in general), in animals and in humans. Though I realize this isn’t the shiningest example, I believe very strongly that nutrition can play a significant role in both preventing and combatting even the most serious illnesses. I’ll even be trite and use the quote from Hippocrates listed on any site offering similar claims, “Let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” I don’t look down on modern medicine by any means, I just encourage everyone to be mindful of more natural options to consider first (time provided) or in addition to other treatments. The body’s own healing potential is incredible– you just have to know how to assist it!

Here are some of the pages we looked to primarily concerning alternative lymphoma treatments in dogs (though, again, Maggie was being treated with chemotherapy as well). Some of the stories are quite inspiring:

Natural Dog Health Remedies: Dog Cancer Diet
Holistic/Alternative/Complementary Therapies for Dogs with Cancer (you’ll want to scroll down to “Buddy’s Protocol”)
K9 Immunity: Hope for Dogs with Cancer; Canine Lymphoma

As for nutrition for humans with cancer, one of the food blogs in my blog roll (Food to Glow) is geared to specifically that. The author works at a cancer center in the UK (coincidentally named Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre), hosting nutrition workshops, and offers an informative Nutrition and Cancer page on her blog (note there’s a drop-down menu on the actual tab with loads more information than what’s available on that page itself). In today’s world where the seemingly most innocuous things allegedly can be cancer-causing I think it’s important that everyone stay informed about how eating right can help them stay healthy.

An Unlikely Way to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day: An All-Night Thai Benefit Concert

When I was home last winter one thing I was a bit desperate for was some live music. Having gone to school in Charlottesville– an awesome town for music with a variety of happenin’ (albeit, seemingly-ever-changing… RIP Satellite Ballroom) venues– I was a bit spoiled when it came to watching live shows, whether it was a friend’s band playing a weekly free show at a bar, or some big names coming through JPJ (our affectionate name for John Paul Jones Arena, the “new”–in my day– basketball arena) or Charlottesville Pavilion. Proximity to DC and Richmond didn’t hurt in that regard.

In China, of course, there were the clubs, which often hosted flamboyant über-kitsch boy-band-esque troupes performing synchronized dance numbers; or scantily-clad, 6-inch-heel-wearing ladies mixing up L’s and R’s in English songs. Sometimes there were life-sized Garfields and Mad Hatters wandering around. It was entertaining, for sure, but not the kind of fist-pumping, losing yourself in the music experience I’d grown so used to.

Admittedly, in the four months I was home I was only able to catch two live acts (Chromeo; and Bright Eyes with Cursive, if you were wondering) not including the steady stream of weekend entertainment coming through the pub where I worked. But it did the trick, and left me wondering if I’d be left with another treble-clef-shaped hole in my heart upon my return to Asia.

For awhile said treble-clef was definitely forming. Then we made friends with a guy who managed and performed at one of our former haunts (before it shut down), and he’s introduced us to a few nearby places where you can find fun live music every night of the week (often featuring him). But it still lacks the atmosphere and electricity generally found in a proper concert environment.

Then Bodyslam happened. A real concert! Crowds! Hype! Colored lights! Middle and ring fingers pinned down by thumbs while pointers and pinkies go wild! And you may remember in the Bodyslam post I referenced Job2Do as Thailand’s “reggae darlings,” and said I wouldn’t mind checking them out sometime.

Well, ask and ye shall receive! When we went to Tonsai a few weeks ago we became friendly with Deat (Di-art?), one of the Thai staff at Chill Out Bar. He was happy to help us practice our Thai and in general we enjoyed each others’ company. We insisted he come visit in Thung Song one day and we exchanged numbers, though I must say I didn’t really expect much to come of it. A few days (a week?) later we got a call from him– with the message that Job2Do were coming to Hat Yai, his hometown, on the 17th of March and that we should go together. He’d come to Thung Song the 16th, we’d go visit his family the next morning, and then head to the show. In the words of an old British man we happened to observe once vacationing in the UK– God, why not?!

Deat arrived Friday on no sleep, having worked the Half Moon Party at Chill Out Bar the night before. So when we went to grab dinner (and catch the nightly band) at the nearby Mai Tong restaurant, he made use of my bicycle in order to dip out early and get some sleep. I’m really only sharing this to give context for these pictures that prove, yet again, that Jack was right and it is a boys’ bike.

Saturday it was up early to catch the minibus to Hat Yai. Before I knew it I was wedged between Deat and Wayne on the motorbike his brother left for him at the station, careening into the Thai countryside just outside of Hat Yai in the hot March sun (that might not mean much to you North Americans, but the March sun in Thailand is hot). We enjoyed our afternoon in Deat’s little town, full of inquisitive children and neighbors and aunts wanting to catch a glimpse of two of the first farang to find themselves in the town. Of course, after speaking two words of Thai most of them found it fit to fly into intricate stories completely in their southern Thai dialect (of which we understand not a word), which made for lots of deceitful nodding and grinning on our part, but it was nice to be so welcomed.

shot taken at the minibus station in thung song. this unknowingly set a theme of sorts for my weekend photography.

deat's house and his 'pool house' where he resides when he's home.

At some point sleeping arrangements were brought up. We thought the plan had been to camp at the concert-grounds, proper festival-style. But Deat asked if we’d rather camp there or just come back home when it finishes. Which of course begged the question… “Well when is it going to finish?”
“Oh, maybe only 6 in the morning. I think have many, many band.”
“6 in the morning?! When does Job2Do play?”
“Oh, I think only 3 in the morning.”

Turns out it was a huge benefit concert featuring a number of Thailand’s biggest bands. Presumably because it’s so hot during the day (not at all because they have very strange planning tactics in Thailand) they made it an all-night affair rather than an all-day one. So we had a delicious dinner of Tom Yum Talay, crabs, and noodle salad at Deat’s house with his friends, and set out to the venue around 7 pm.

advertisement for the show.

ready for a fun-filled evening!

When we arrived it was time to set up “camp,” even if it was uncertain whether the tents would get much use (spoiler alert: they didn’t). Unfortunately we found we were among the late-comers, and all the prime tent positions seemed to be taken. We assumed there was no way that huge crowd (10,000 strong, at least, we heard) could last the whole night, and that surely all those families with babies would be freeing up some space later in the evening. So we settled for a rocky patch right near the front, intending to seize an opportune moment to relocate the tents when possible.

excellent ground for sleeping on.

wayne/deat:1 o/arm:0

the show opened with some traditional dancing.

big crowd (that nice patch of grass was soon covered by the sleeping bag we thankfully brought-- would have been an uncomfortable 11 hours otherwise!). also my camera doesn't take the best night shots so i've edited these to look as best i could. some ended up with almost a new-age pointillism look, i think. see: http://www.princetonol.com/groups/iad/links/seurat_painting.jpg

no thai to-do is complete without a fireworks show.

Deat had told us he was friends with the drummer and bassist of Job2Do and we were hoping to maybe meet them at some point. This didn’t happen (though when they took the stage Deat was helping set up their equipment), but we were graced with the presence of Rasta Zam for the near entirety of the show. Partially because he was sleeping diagonally across our sleeping bag the whole time, but he was cool to hang out with while he was awake. Tried to charge me 20 baht for a photo (presumably jokingly) but it didn’t take long to bargain him down.

some more 'artsy' (read: poorly exposed) photos of people going crazy. i believe this was when some band was covering, 'it's my life' by bon jovi.

somehow a southsider found his way to the show! goooo white sox!

told you 'sleeping people' would be a theme for this post.

one of the most entertaining bands taking the stage. meatloaf lookalike?

with a swinging brass section.

love the triple spoon in the back.

the guy in the white cowboy hat headed up the first band to play. claimed to have built this bike himself.

finally! at closer to 4 in the morning, job2do takes the stage.

job2do and someone waving a thailand flag.

(i have video of this song but it’s bad quality and only part of the song and i’m too lazy to upload. BUT it’s their signature song and you can imagine the crowd went wiiiild!)

As with the Bodyslam concert there was no booze allowed– to be brought in or bought there at the venue, allegedly to prevent fighting– which was probably a good thing because I doubt I would have made it to sunrise if I’d been drinking. And no, the hoards never died down so our tent remained defiantly situated and unused in its rocky ground. When the crowd cleared off our sleeping bag from time to time I’d lay down my weary head, but for the most part I rallied! And what a beautiful sight the sunrise was.

one last picture of a sleeping person.

found a nice seat on top of the septic truck.

And just like that, it was time to go. Unsure of how quickly 11 hours had slipped by, and feeling that the whole night had been a bit surreal, it was back onto the motorbike to finally get a few hours’ sleep at Deat’s before heading home

An excellent and very unique weekend (did I mention that a full night of some of Thailand’s hottest bands cost 200 baht– $6.67? And that unlike at American venues they didn’t triple the price of all the goods to be bought there?). Thanks so much to Deat for organizing it!

Weekend in Pak Meng

Well, this post is coming with another exciting one right on its heels, I promise. Wayne and I have just accompanied a Thai friend to his countryside home just outside Hat Yai to attend what we thought was a Thai reggae show and what ended up being an all-night benefit concert (literally… 7 pm to 6 am) and, as you can imagine, it was a rip-roaring time. However I still have the shenanigans from two weekends ago to catch you up on so our more recent good times will just have to wait.

Three weekends ago Wayne and Eugene plotted a course to Pak Meng, what we’d determined to be one of the nearest beaches to us after Wayne headed up a summer camp there about a year ago with our former agency. And indeed, the two fearless guys found it took an easy hour-and-a-half to make it to this lovely locale.

Of course, Wayne and I had slightly different plans than when he went solo with Eugene. First, we were going to stay a night, and we were going to make good on something we’ve been talking about for ages and actually camp. And secondly… we’d be bringing a third passenger.

That’s right… somehow we drove the 101 kilometers from Thung Song to Pak Meng with two passengers, a backpack-o’-clothes-and-stuff, Wayne’s waterproof bag, a tent, a sleeping bag, and a puppy. On our old Honda Dream that can only hit 90 km on a good day. Despite the sedatives I’d bought for Ollie (from our very incredulous vet. You want to do what? On what? With whom?) he was a little wiggle-worm (who’s really not that little anymore…), making the journey a bit nerve-wracking for Wayne, who had to control the bike; and uncomfortable for me, who had to control Ollie and was covered in dog hair and scratch marks by the end of the journey. We got bewildered stares from every car and bike that passed, and the trip took an hour longer than it had on the previous attempt, but in the end we made it. Victory!

most of the time he was on my lap but for the last 15 minutes or so we moved him to the backpack between wayne's legs, affording me the opportunity to snap these amazing shots.

I had the honor of being the first to play with Ollie amongst the waves as Wayne took it upon himself to get our tire fixed (yeah, stopping for air twice along the way didn’t help our time any). By this point we were hungry so we sat at a little beachside cafe for some grilled prawns, Leo, and people watching. And Wayne took the opportunity to throw around the ball with Mr. Ollie Pup.

oh yeah, haha. your daily dose of barf-worthiness... wayne brightened my morning before setting out with his clever scoring-of-the-bread.

so i did my best to reciprocate with smiley eggs.

finally here!

'come onnnn mom please stop taking pictures we have walking to do!'

view from the eatery.

gorgeous thing.

a boy and his dog.

'i love this place i love this place i love this place i don't know where i am and i can't remember how i got here and i think there was a lot of wind and i hated it but i love this place!'

Pak Meng’s a bit different to many of the other beaches we’ve visited in that it’s predominantly frequented by Thais. We saw maybe only one or two other farang while we were there and it just felt like a more authentic experience. Also, as Thais generally prefer to stay out of the sun to avoid becoming “black-skinned” (as they love to say, no matter how many times we tell them that a] they’re not black and ] should they ever travel outside Thailand they might want to avoid using it as a negative remark) we had the beach to ourselves by the time we decided to hunker down and find a campsite. Of course… we didn’t get right down to camping, but instead decided to enjoy the daylight hours teaching Ollie to swim and doing yoga.

a thai friend, toom, suggested ages ago at yoga that i get a picture on the beach in standing bow. finally made it happen:).

good job little buddy!

so proud of my little guy.

so proud of his little guy!

So despite his apprehension in the rivers around our house (I had a cute video going until I brilliantly decided to drop my computer a few weeks ago and am still in the process of organizing data recovery… You can imagine what a process that is in Thailand.) it turns out Ollie *loves* the water and thinks swimming is the best thing ever. Yay! We also found a lot of sea creatures in Pak Meng, beginning with a star fish.

hermie crabz.

'durrrr, i likes da hermie crabz!' (harper and ollie share a voice in my head.) we brought him home a shell to play with.

pufferfish? didn't find this one. it was offered to us by some random thais. alas, we could not accept.

pufferfish-offering thais.

Post-playing made for relaxing and watching yet another gorgeous Thai sunset. They never fail to please. It also gave Ollie time to make a friend (a friend! Not a dog he viciously barked at, or vice versa, but instead gallivanted so far down the beach Wayne had to track him down on the motorbike.)

finally, at dusk (and later, we'd learn, at dawn) the thais come out to collect... something in the shallow tide water.

happy family:)

Before it got too dark it was time to set up the tent we’d borrowed from a coworker. We chose the location we did because it was in front of a big, open space of beach and a bit beyond where the shops and restaurants were on the main stretch of beach; we assumed it would be a nice, peaceful place to rest our weary heads…

Wrong. Between the mosquitos that made it in on account of the broken zipper it took us 20 minutes to close before going to dinner (a delicious Tom Yum Kung and steamed fish combo), Ollie’s barking at every Thai person and cat that passed (so racist), and the way-more-frequent-than-expected passing of a car or motorbike, it wasn’t exactly the best night’s sleep either of us had ever had.

wah wah.

The upside was that our lousy sleeping conditions had us up in time to watch an equally mesmerizing sunrise, enhanced by a just-past-full-moon still gorgeously hanging in the sky.

reflected on the beach.

Of course, rising at 6:30 can often mean your breakfast options are a bit limited. We did finally find a place down by the pier, and were surprised to find that our eggs and toast were accompanied by french fries. Still deciding whether that was a good or bad addition.

After breakfast we closed up camp and decided to head to two of Trang’s other nearby beaches; Had Ying Long and Had Yao. The first is a national park and generally requires a 200 baht admission fee for farang and Thais alike. We approached to find the ticket booth empty and thought we’d lucked out– only to be stopped upon exit and asked for our money. We… doctored the truth a bit and claimed to only have 100 baht between the two of us, which the lady was reluctantly about to accept, until Wayne tried the trump card: “Rao bpen ajarn ti Thung Song, krup!” (“We’re teachers in Thung Song!”) “Ohhh ajarn?! Okay, okay. Mai bpen rai.” (“Ohhh, teachers?! Okay, okay, no problem.”) And we got in for free anyway. Guess there are some perks to this job…

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Had Ying Long was a nice enough place, though we’re not exactly sure what the 200 baht/person was going towards as far as cleanup goes. Though it was quite deserted when we got there, we noticed an even more deserted beach off in the distance. The tide was low enough that the water only came up to our chests at its highest point on our way over, and we spent an hour-or-so on our own private beach. Snazzy!

view from normal-people's had ying long

view from adventurous-beach-finding-people's beach near had ying long

sand was so soft. destroyed a million crab colonies, i'm sure.

lil bb pup can't make it over the rocks!

'gorgeous driftwood,' i remember remarking, but the picture doesn't really do it justice.

one of the drawbacks of being so deserted is that there's no one to clean up the washed-up debris...

another animal we found on the beach!

Then we went to Had Yao, a smaller, even quieter beach just down the road where we think could be a great camping locale in the future. Ate some delicious sweet and sour fish and then headed home!

Mattayom 3 Graduation [Now With More Pictures]

This post doesn’t require a lot of explanation, but there are two points I should make. The first is that in most schools Mattayom 3 students (call them… 9th graders) don’t graduate– they would simply move up to Mattayom 4 in their same school and be forced to wait three more long years until they complete Mattayom 6 to be rewarded with a graduation ceremony. But our school only goes up to Mattayom 3, meaning all those wide-eyed, eager 14-year-olds are about to take that next big step forward– to a new high school! I too changed high schools as a 14-year-old, and it wasn’t the easiest experience of my life, but these guys will be moving ahead with a bunch of their friends so I wish them all the best.

The second point is that, despite all my well-wishing and the fact that I was given the honor of tying white bands around the wrists of a few students (the ‘ceremony’ pretty much consisted only of teachers tying bands on the wrists of students), I don’t teach Mattayom 3 and don’t know any of these students, so it wasn’t a particularly emotional time for me. But there were pictures and it was a special day, all things considered, so I must postpone the Pak Meng post and keep you waiting for all those darling pictures of Ollie playing the river rat just a bit longer.

i'd left my bike at the school the night before because it was raining so hard. when we arrived the next morning it wasn't where i left it and i started to worry. then i saw it in this display and was happy to have found it but a bit worried someone thought it was a prize donation...

but it was just for fun, i guess. then p'dum had me pose with it haha. (recognize the dress, andrea?! i love it!)

this one's for you, jess.

for those who didn’t catch the reference.

leave him alone for 5 minutes and he's already running off with two thai ladies...

observing from above.

making conversation with the students i got to 'bless'. (also how stoked does the guy next to me look? that's pretty much his permanent expression, even when he seems to actually be happy.)

grace giving her blessing.

our director, chok dee (whose name means 'good luck' or 'lucky') participating.

shirt-signing party

with some of my m2s. still got another term with these ones!

And there you have it. We’ve just finished our first week of the “Summer School”-esque tomfoolery we’ve been roped into and I guess it wasn’t too bad. Can definitely handle two more weeks before shoving out to Bali. Started researching accommodation yesterday and it’s got me quite excited! Two more weeks… two more weeks…

Socializing with the Students

As January came to a close (I know this sounds like the beginnings of a very overdue update, but bear with me) Wayne and I were presented with some gear-grinding information. The information came via a Facebook chat conversation with P’Sila, the lady at the Municipality office in charge of handling our administrative affairs (I assure you, after what I’ve learned about nearly every Thai system, particularly those regarding foreigners, this is not an enviable position). She’s nice as can be, but her English is weak so her Facebook chats are always a bit obviously driven with the assistance of an Internet translator.

For this reason I hoped that something was lost in translation when she presented what I interpreted as an announcement that starting the following week Wayne and I were to teach 1.5-hour adult classes in the evening, Monday-Friday, February-September. For no additional pay. When we were hired talk had gone down about us exchanging English lessons for Thai lessons with our fellow teachers, but this topic hadn’t been touched for months. And (I keep saying this… maybe I should just know better by now?) surely, surely we could have been given notice further in advance. Or even been involved in the planning process!

The feathers were indeed ruffled, but some easy negotiations got us down to only two nights per week, with the entire month of April free. The initial, overwhelming projection of 60 students was never hit and classes have generally been a much more manageable 20-or-less. Though neither of us had ever taught adults before and were a bit intimidated by the prospect, I’ve actually quite enjoyed the experience thus far. As it turns out, there are almost no behavioral issues in adult classes, and they actually appreciate the work you put into the time you spend together! (*Shakes fist at thankless children.*) It helps that many of our students are teachers for the municipality, just like us. Before starting I’d also made the hopeful prediction that the classes could be a good way for us to meet some more locals and build our Thai network a bit. This also proved true.

When class finished last Tuesday, some of our students asked if we’d like to join them for roti (paper-thin pancakes filled with egg, banana, or coconut and slathered in condensed milk whipped up by lovely ladies in headdresses at Muslim food stalls) and coffee. We were happy to comply (it should be noted that all of our students are women and most of them are in their 40s-50s, making Wayne the obvious odd man out [no pun intended], with me having only slightly more in common), and throughout the course of the evening snacktime it was decided we should also spend the following day together at the waterfall near P’Sila’s house (there happened to be a Buddhist holiday and we were delighted to have a Wednesday off). Not that we had any clue where P’Sila lived, of course, but that was a problem easily solved by a Municipality meet-up and carpool.

As it turned out, she has a gorgeous house right above (literally… she’s got quite the steep walk from and to her house each day) the waterfall we’d visited with Jack and Ollie way back when, that we learnt to be called ThaPhae Waterfall. The afternoon involved a plethora of food, the enjoyment of assisting in its preparations, lots of laughs with the ladies, and a quick swim in the waterfall on a hot and beautiful day. Sounds like a perfect afternoon, really.

p'sila and ti preparing mango salad and chili sauce.

me with mod (thai people make all 5'4" of me look gigantic...), showing off the fare for the afternoon in its pre-cooked state. ning being silly on the stairs.

shrimp and squid 'cooking', noi dishing out yam woon sen talay (spicy glass noodle and seafood salad).

yam woon sen talay (spicy glass noodle and seafood salad. one of my favorites!)

haha... our contribution. a seed bread. but everyone preferred to tear at it (rather than slice) and dip into the butter (rather than spread). mai bpen rai!

green and red chili sauces... pet maak!

ju and sila trying to figure out what's wrong with the burner. i thought it was taking awhile for those shrimp to turn pink!

the whole feast... grilled shrimp, squid (complete with gelatinous eggs inside of which i was quite wary but which i found strangely edible), and fish; noodle and mango salads; chinese noodles; bread.

al fresco dish-washing.

sleeping cat and shrine.

with ning and air in front of the welcome sign.

better weather than last time!

natural water slide.

sila cheesin' in the corner.

Since it was a Buddhist holiday and all we had high hopes of making it to a temple in the evening to get an idea of the associated goings-on but we were too beat from our busy day to do so.

This weekend was a blast, Wayne and I went to Pak Meng (where he and Eugene had scoped out the previous weekend)– with the pup! (So that link to the last time we went to this waterfall brought back fond memories of when Ollie was far easier to carry on the motorbike…) I’ll hopefully have the photos up by the end of the week, but since we’re on the topic of unexpected extra work I’ve just completed Day Two of bambambam, three classes in a row every morning even though we (and certainly the poor students) expected to be done teaching/learning by now. All they want to do is play games, they’re unsure if they need to wear their uniforms, and 8 out of 36 students showed up to one class today. Oh Thailand.

Mushroom Burgers

Since setting up my “Recipes” page I’ve hinted at the fact that we make mushroom burgers. The time for the post has finally come, but I think first a few things need to be said for any type of non-meat burger. We’re not trying to… trick anyone here. I’m not going to serve this to you, raising my eyeybrows exaggeratedly and prompting you: “So, uh, whadaya think, huh? Good, huh? Can’t even tell there’s no meat in there, huhhhhh?!” While some store-bought patties do attempt to maybe replicate a meaty texture or put some “char-broiled” lines on there, I can honestly say I’ve never gone into a vegetarian-burger-eating-experience expecting to think I was eating McDonald’s (*shudders*… though I’m man enough to admit that after five-and-a-half years of vege/pescetarianism I still do get the odd Mickey-D’s craving. Just because I like to go on the random anti-fast food diatribe about how there’s nothing real in there doesn’t mean they don’t succeed in making it taste good…).

And on the subject of tricking people, (I can’t help myself) I must here include a short anecdote about when I was home from college once, eating MorningStar Mini Corn Dogs, and my youngest brother entered the room in astonishment. “Are you eating corn dogs?!” And oh, the naivete, I oh-so-easily convinced him that, oddly enough, corn dogs were the one meat item I was absolutely unable to give up, and would he like one? The kid can’t be paid to go near a meatless product normally, but he gobbled the thing right up. Here I probably did raise my eyebrows exaggeratedly, prompting, “So, uh, whadaya think, huh? Good, huh?” To which he responded yes, to which I responded he’d just eating a veggie dog, to which he responded, “Uhhhh. I knew there was a vegetable aftertaste!” (There’s not.) See, told you I’d make it short!

Anyway just a few more disclaimers about these before posting photos and recipes:
1) If nothing else, please please please try the homemade hamburger buns. They’re lovely every time with these burgers. They’re lovely every morning after as vehicles for egg sandwiches. Honestly, I think they’d be grand just on their own with some butter as dinner rolls (and, of course, as buns for normal hamburgers as well). They taste great and, for me anyway, there’s always just the satisfaction of having made something unexpected all by yourself!
2) We forgot to get cheese before this bout of burger-making. They’re nice anyway, but it’s my opinion that everything’s better with melted cheese dripping off of it. I did get excited for a second and announce to Wayne, “Oh well! We’re just doing the vegan version!” But… we always serve them with a tzatziki-style yogurt sauce. And there’s egg in the buns. *Palm to forehead* D’oh!
3) I’ve come to the painful acceptance that the photos of this particular dish don’t really do it justice.  I’m well aware that they just, simply put, don’t really look that appetizing (though, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!). I guess what’s important to remember is that mushrooms are just nature’s sponges (in addition to… actual sponges) and if you’re a fan of balsamic vinegar, that’s the primary ingredient in the marinade and that’s the prominent flavor. Mixed with some onion and garlic, which become sauteed, and then served with the yogurt sauce and home-grown veg (on homemade buns)… I mean, it’s just a real nice combination, y’all. (In my best Paula Deen impression.)

Alright. /disclaimers. Commence recipe.

Balsamic-Marinated Mushroom Burgers with Yogurt Sauce
For the buns (which should be considered ahead of time, since the rest of the dish is real quick and these need extra time on account of the rising):
3/4 cup warm water (her recipe says “hot,” and it took me two attempts killing my yeast before I realized that just… wasn’t the best adjective. When activating yeast, you never want your water to be hotter than is comfortable to the touch.)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp honey
2 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp salt
1 egg
3-4 cups of flour

1. Mix water, olive oil, honey, yeast, salt, egg, and about 1.5 cups of flour in a large bowl. Beat until smooth.

egg was the first thing into my bowl since i foolishly thought it would be a good idea to ride my new bicycle (my bicycle! i haven't even told you about my bicycle!) on my egg-fetching mission, and then hang my eggs in their bag from the handlebars. *palm to forehead again* one egg got obliterated and one cracked but only lost the tiniest bit of white so my first objective was to salvage that egg!

2. Add another cup of flour and begin slowly kneading, adding more flour as necessary (usually about another cup-and-a-half). After about 5 minutes the dough should have come together well enough that you can form a solid ball.

3. Let the ball rest for a few minutes, then divide (as evenly as possible) into 8 portions. As you might have guessed, mine always come out a little uneven. Roll these into balls, place along a greased cookie sheet, flatten out a bit, and let “rise until doubled.” Kara suggests half an hour, I let mine go even a little longer and I can’t honestly say they doubled, but they rose enough in the oven to make it work.

4. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius) for 15-18 minutes. Try to have this coincide with the burgers finishing because they’re extra nice when fresh!

Also, just to again give credit where it’s due, this is almost the exact recipe from CreationsbyKara.com, with the exception that I substituted honey for sugar. And, as I noted in the flatbread for my mini-pizzas, I always require more flour than the recipe states.

For the burgers:
4-8 oyster mushrooms, depending on their size. (In theory you want one to a bun, but you can’t always find them big enough. Also, back home I’d probably be inclined to go with portobello. In Thailand [and China, where we first started making these] those are hard to come by so we go with the largest mushrooms available in the Asian markets.)
1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
shredded cilantro and basil, optional

This one’s easy… combine ingredients and let sit as long as your little heart desires. (Remember, mushrooms=sponges, they’ll marinate quickly).

While the ‘shrooms are marinating and the bread is baking, why don’t you go ahead and throw together some nice yogurt sauce?

For the yogurt sauce:
1 container of plain yogurt
the juice of one lemon (in theory… we often find ourselves using lime because it’s more available here)
a handful of chopped cilantro
2 garlic cloves, minced
half of a cucumber, finely sliced/chopped

Again… too easy. Throw in a bowl and stir.

Time to cook. Heat another tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium. Throw in mushrooms (and marinade). Allows to cook until mushrooms have heated all the way through (they can be flipped a time or two), the onion is translucent, and half of the vinegar has evaporated/reduced; about 5 minutes (if you have cheese, throw it on after flipping and with about 2 minutes to spare. Putting a lid over the pan to catch steam can speed the melting process).

oh yeah, haha, i completely forgot! we realized we did, in fact, have some parmesan cheese in the fridge and so decided to throw some on.

Prepare buns and assemble toppings.

suppose the lettuce and basil should be highlighted in this... they're from the garden:).

Assemble les burgers.

Sorry, no cute pictures of Ollie attempting to trade cuteness for a bite. Oh but I do have this picture of my bike, originially owned by Jack, recently purchased off Emma as she set off for Australia last week. You will be missed! (But I’m lovin’ the wheels!)

bird and chimes that were the actual focus of that shot.

saying goodbye to emma at yimyim.

“Student Faces Prison for Speaking out in Royalist Thailand” 

“Student Faces Prison for Speaking out in Royalist Thailand”

“The fate of Kanthoop, 20, who faces up to 15 years in jail for ‘having opinions’, highlights country’s harsh pro-monarchy laws.”

Feature article on the Guardian yesterday, interesting insight into some of the sticky issues in the Land of Smiles.

Pertinent quotes:
“This is about national security, not just about the king,” said royalist Dr Tul Sittisomwong. “Thai people are not well educated, we’re not open to layers of discussion without fear of violence [regarding this subject]. The king makes peace in our society.”

Or conversely…

“Just look at the hyperbole [used] to describe the monarchy, the religiosity with which Thai people love the monarch and the public participation of all this royalism,” [Thongchai Winichakul, professor of South-East Asian History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison] says. “People are now afraid of their colleagues”– because anyone can bring forward a charge of lese-majeste, he adds.

Worth a read!

(And don’t forget that Thai people aren’t too fond of Bhumibol and Sirikrit’s only son [strangely that link won’t actually open for me… my first run-in with Internet censorship in Thailand?! Or just a dead link?] and heir… Begs the question of how the “religious royalism” will play out when it’s time for him to take the throne.)

Mattayom 2 Menagerie (et al)

I admitted when I first started working here at Thung Song Municipality High School back in November I admitted there was probably going to be “severe middle child syndrome.” I feel that in a way that has proven true… Looking back it seems like my time at Satree received far more blog attention.

But now that we’ve finished our actual teaching portion of the term (commencing what, at this point, looks like a three-week period of sitting around trying to look busy, though I’m sure we’ll be handed a task here and there to help the “looking busy” bit along) I suppose this is the perfect time to, like a proud mother hen, share some of the students’ work.

This is a post I’ve been gradually adding pictures to for awhile, beginning with the students’ animal haikus (hence the title of the post).

If you click the pictures they should enlarge and you might be able to actually read some of them? But just to highlight a few favorites (from three students who usually struggle quite a bit… I was so proud. Proud that they even handed in an assignment for once in their life…)

oh jame... guess you missed the 5/7/5 memo... "fish shing are pretty/i like fish shing because they are beautiful/fish shing can go to swim"

I think the next thing I’d loaded were some Valentine’s Day cards. Since we were doing our poetry unit I thought I’d have them write poems based off this love poem generator‘s offerings, and make cards out of them. Some of the lines were super sappy, and some of the students were really unwilling to write a love poem to someone of the opposite gender (even just hypothetically). In a country where “ladyboys” are an accepted third-gender (and it’s usually easy to see even in elementary school which boys are headed that route) I didn’t really want to be the prude farang teacher preaching a “no homo” agenda, but I also wanted to spare the kids any potential embarrassment. Girls would swear to me the cards were for their friends; one boy wouldn’t back down from the assertion that the card was for his father. I finally had to chalk it up to my failure as a teacher that they didn’t understand the blatant romantic undertones (OVERtones!) of the poem and back down from what was sure to be a losing battle.

ol' jome (not to be confused with the afore-mentioned 'jame,' whose work you'll re-encounter shortly) just wanted to make sure he had all his bases covered and included both a 'boy' and a 'girl' reference. maybe the card was for a ladyboy?

and the inside.

And that’s really all I had at the onset. But then, just in case you were going through poem-withdrawal after I bombarded you with them back in October, I figured I might as well share some of the poems I assigned as a group final project this time around. These kids are 2 years younger than the youngest kids I had doing them at Satree, so though still a bit rough around the edges (even with a bit of assistance from Teacher) I thought they did a pretty good job!

this one gets me so good. these kids had come to me, as i'd encouraged, so many times in the 2 class periods i'd given them to work on the projects, and their rough draft was a cute poem (with a proper rhyme scheme and good grammar) about their school. and then somehow their final project turned into this, with it's little tidbits on how many toilets there are and the naughty habits of their friends. excellent.

And now, even though the term is done and for all we know we’ll have a different office next term, in the 11th hour, thanks to all this gorgeous work from our students, our office had undergone a bit of a beautification process:

Alright… it’s 10:38 on Monday and this blog was the one thing on my agenda and now it’s done. What to do what to do…