Since I’ve been in Thailand multiple people have asked me what exactly a Thai apartment is like. As such I’ve been meaning to write this blog for ages and am only getting round to it now that I’ve technically moved out! Here’s my apartment in Thailand that I shared with Skeeter/Scotty-Boo/Scott. I lived above an Indian restaurant right in the centre of Lop Buri’s old town so I never had to go far for anything which was brilliant.
First off – here’s my road:
Then there’s my bedroom which has a grand total of 16 windows completely covering 3 walls. This means that my room is kind of like my conservatory back home, cold in winter (heaven here) and roasting in summer (hell). No air-con! The light in the morning is gorgeous though and you get used to the heat.
Finally there’s the real seller – the roof:
Whenever I come down the ladder I always have to sit at the top ad have a think for ten minutes before descending. It’s a very calm little spot where you can see all the hustle and bustle going on below but its quiet and calm and there’s a nice breeze – a rare commodity out here. I will miss this place very much, I’ve made so many happy memories here but now it’s time for pastures new.
And so it is that my long year of being an English teacher for Kindergarten 1 at Anuban Lop Buri draws to a close. It’s been everything I thought it would be and yet also nothing like. Saying goodbye to my 300 pupils was very hard but I’m so glad I stayed with them for the full year. I suppose we’ve had oddly similar experiences; my 300 and I started school on the same day, nervous and excited and not really knowing what to expect and we’ve progressed from there. Getting to know our teachers, making friends, finding our way around and in the end having to say goodbye.
I’ve cuddled them when they cried, played with them, taught them and dealt with their occasional puddles, projectile vomit and attempts at armed take-over. I’ve loved them so much it ached a little bit and I’ve been more frustrated by them than I’ve ever experienced. Most of them have changed quite a bit over the course of the year, some for better and some for worse sadly. Chick-Chick for instance – the first lesson I taught her she was vivacious and engaging, constantly doing chicken impressions every time I sang Old MacDonald which is how she earned her name. Her class has the bitchiest cliques of girls however, who slowly ostracised her from their groups and now she sits at the back of the class and rarely raises her hand or speaks up. Little mouse however has had an opposite transformation. He has a face that always looks sad and to start with he would never get involved or open his mouth. After a while I brought him up to the front of the class for a game though and deliberately asked him questions I knew he could answer, slowly his confidence grew and now he’s reaching for the sky every time I need a volunteer and if he gets things wrong he just laughs at himself and tries again.
On the last day of school I thought I was holding myself together pretty well but as my favourite little group of girls were playing their best game and racing up to tickle me and then dash I felt tears start to threaten. I held them back until the children had filed to the bathroom to brush their teeth after lunch and then let them spill over right there in the corridor. One of the teachers walking past smiled at me and then ducked into a class room, barely a second had passed before there was a rousing chorus of “awwwwwww” from all the TAs so she’d obviously just told them about the sobbing farang in the hallway.
I decided to have all my children do British colouring-in sheets for their last lesson since Teacher’s going home there – and explained about England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales not all being the same thing (something which has driven me nuts whilst I’ve been here) and despite putting up pictures of all the images for them to see and stating unequivocally – “the dragon is red, the leprechaun is green etc…” I got some fantastically coloured zombie/smurf queens which amused me greatly being not much of a royalist.
Just as an aside, Thai 4-year-olds trying to pronounce ‘leprechaun’ is always good for a giggle. They all found it hilarious when I pointed to the picture and said ‘ne si mai dee!’ which means bad behaviour and is what I say to them when I catch them stabbing each other with pencils or trying to round-house kick their classmates in the face. For all that they’re lovely; classes with 40 4-year-olds, hardly any mutual language and teaching assistants who spend 90% of the lesson outside on their iphones do have a tendency to get a little out of hand.
One thing I did discover along with fellow teacher James was that it helps to say goodbye if you bring sweets for all your pupils in your last lesson. Then – whilst you’re trying to say a heart-felt goodbye and express how much you’ll miss them – they’ll be fighting over who got which colour, moaning that they don’t like the one they got and can they swap and shoving the ones they have in their pockets so they can come up and pretend they didn’t get any. That makes saying goodbye to the ling lek (little monkeys) much easier.
It’s been a good few days for me; I submitted my first visa application in Bangkok for my impending adventures (1 down, 4 to go), managed to find reasonably-priced farang-sized trousers in the land of size zero (wish that had happened 6 months ago so I wouldn’t have had to wear patched rags that are falling to pieces for so long) and then came home to find myself nominated by the lovely Karla of Traveller Soul (www.travellersoul76.com) for the Versatile Blogger award. The sun is shining on Eira! Although I wish the actual sun would chill out a bit – I’m pretty sure it’s trying melt my metal roof right now. Anyway, to the task at hand – thank-you so much to Karla for having followed me since I started and always having been so supportive!
So as a nominee, here are 5 very versatile facts about me:
- In addition to teaching, since I’ve been in Thailand I’ve also been re-designing an Indian restaurant and struck up a bit of a partnership with a local tattooist that’s seen me designing tattoos for half the farangs who pass through Lop Buri.
- My general philosophy in life is that if something terrifies you then you should probably do it; see previous blogs on descending Mt Sinai, getting lost alone at night on Malaysian hills, galloping at 40 miles an hour with my hand in a horse’s mouth, drinking with Yugoslavian gangsters and …shudder …performing karaoke. Ranulph Fiennes said something along the lines of “should you find yourself at the edge of a roaring river where a little dingy is tied up; get in the dinghy immediately and set sail. Don’t wait and ponder, you’ll only psyche yourself out. Just get in the dingy and see where it takes you!” Granted the man has lost half his fingers on his adventures and is probably certifiably insane, or at least undiagnosed ADHD, but I like his style.
- I am a part-Welsh, part-English mongrel and I like to refer to myself as just British. One of my biggest pet hates when travelling is this sentence; “British? So English right?” No-no.
- I am really looking forwards to getting back to my art business (www.bluefairyart.wix.com/eira) and finishing all my projects. Particularly a graphic novel I am currently part-way through and I get to work on with my brother and his magical computer skills.
- In precisely 1 month and 3 weeks time I will be leaving Bangkok from Hualamphong Station and taking the train all the way to Paris via 11 different countries. Then it’s just a nice relaxing ferry crossing to bring me home the night before my birthday after 443 days away from all my nearest and dearest. Don’t worry – it won’t be the end of my adventures though!
Here’s the 5 fabulously versatile bloggers I nominate:
- Rarasaur (www.rarasaur.wordpress.com); marvellous observations on life, the universe and everything.
- Toemailer (www.toemail.wordpress.com); bonkers pictures of happy toes across the globe interspersed with art and photography!
- Eating Kent (www.eatingkent.blogspot.co.uk); one woman’s amusing quest to do the locally-sourced, seasonal food thing. It’s not often a blog makes you hungry and laugh.
- Clotilda Jamcracker (www.clotildajamcracker.wordpress.com); dreamily illustrated blog full of colourful musings.
- Sotardalen Nokota Horses (www.nokotahorse.wordpress.com); probably my favourite blog ever – makes me happy every time I see a new post! But that’s mostly because I’m a horse nut. It’s been beautiful following these wild horses settle down in Sweden.
Just a wee little extra blog with a different motivation to the rest; that pesky little sin called pride. I just had to share this photo; low-light, moving target and look how well it came out! Fresh off the memory card with no tampering either, now I’m just shamelessly fishing for compliments. I hope you like it.
As is so often the way of these things, the end of this adventure seems to have rudely snuck up on me despite the fact it’s been waving from afar for months. Suddenly I find I have only 7 full days left with the children I have seen grow, learn and develop over the last year. Yesterday Rachel, who arrived on the very same day as me and has been with me right the way through, booked her ticket home to the states and every week seems to bring a new last. Yesterday was the last movie night, our Monday night tradition, and every week now will bring more goodbyes as term ends and things rapidly begin to draw to a close; everybody seeing to their own new adventures. My own adventures will see me visiting Burma and different places in Thailand for a while before I set off for home with my friend Adam Shoeneman. Flying seemed too easy though so we decided to get the train; shortly this blog should get decidedly more chaotic as we attempt to make our way through Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Mongolia before hitting Asian Siberia and powering our way through to European Russia. Then it’s on through Eastern Europe and to home.
Ah home. To more-or-less everyone here it has become like a tribal drumbeat increasing in intensity; ominous to some and longed-for to others. For me, it’s a little mixture of both. I’m so excited in many ways but now that the time comes to begin the (admittedly long) journey home there’s a sadness that creeps in and sets down deep roots. I find the only way to get through all these endings and goodbyes is to think of all the things I’m most looking forwards to about home and there are definitely several. Of course the people most of all, but here is a list of all the little things I have found missed the most over the last year. It’s never the things you think it’s going to be before you go.
- Booze: Ok, I hear you, I’m in Thailand. A 1.5 pint bottle of beer costs about £1.20, a bucket of SangSom rum and Red Bull £2-3, or a full gallon bucket of rum, vodka and gawd knows what else is about £6. That’s some good drinkings by anyone’s standards *hic*. What I miss is just something a bit, well, nicer I guess. What I wouldn’t give for an Aspalls cider or Stowford Press, a glass of decent wine or – heaven of heavens here’s the Brit in me – a tall jug of Pimms in the garden with ice and mint leaves and all that lovely stuff.
- My dog: Oh my lovely doggy! Cutest little fella that ever graced the earth. I’m so scared that he won’t remember me but he’s so fickle he’ll probably charge around and look really excited at a new person anyway. It’ll be nice to pet an animal that doesn’t leave your hand feeling filthy or have several hitch-hikers.
- Food: This one’s a given, there’s nothing in particular I really miss that much, once you know your way around you can get pretty much anything you want in Bangkok but my mum’s macaroni cheese I’m pretty sure is so amazing it could bring about world peace. What will be wonderful however is choice. As a vegetarian in Lop Buri I pretty much get to flit between pad Thai and fried rice. It will be amazing to have a few choices at the end of the day!
- Computer Games: Nerdy I know but there’ve been times I’ve had a real hankering for a bit of Skyrim or Dragonage. I’ll get home and be poor and unemployed so there’ll be plenty of time to scratch that itch!
- Art: Canvases and materials and resources amassed over a lifetime – can’t wait to carry on all my half-finished projects!
- English: I know you’re not really supposed to say this but it’ll be nice to be somewhere English-speaking after so long never really knowing if you’ve fully understood/been understood conversationally.
- The New Forest: Oddly, whenever I think of home in a nostalgic, wistful sort of way (happens to the best of us at times) it’s never actually my home I think of – it’s the New Forest, about 30 miles west of my home. The New Forest is where I spent a childhood playing in rivers and watching wild ponies and has become a sort of Shangri-la in my head whenever Asia’s driving me crazy. I think of how green it is, golden sunlight dappling the forest floor, cream teas, ploughman’s lunches, my family throwing sticks for the dog… when I’ve been homesick I’ve tortured myself with this image more than any other which would have surprised me to know before I left. Probably when I go back next it will be raining and muddy and shatter the image completely!
- Bed: No bamboo slats, no rock hard boards; a real mattress, a crisp, clean, thick duvet. Window open so the room is slightly chill but I’m warm and snug in my cocoon. Wake up in the morning and turn the pillow over to the cool side against my cheek. Heaven.
- Being Clean: No dirty nails, sweaty matted hair, filthy dusty feet, grubby clothes, whites that are never white, clean, clean, clean! Heaven.
- Grooming: Which brings me nicely to my next point – being well-presented! No frizzy hair, sweaty pink face, 9 million mosquito bites, scruffy clothes, shoes falling to pieces, make-up that stays on longer than 5 minutes before getting sweated off. I’m somewhat amazed to look at pictures of myself before I came here, it’s hard to remember a time when I did things as frivolous as wear high-heels and blow-dry my hair.
- Climate: Call me jaded but I’ve come to the conclusion that the south coast of England has the best weather in the world; never too hot, never too cold, it really doesn’t rain as much as people make out down in our corner and when it does its usually a gentle rain – not the stuff that’ll take the plaster off your building that they have here. Oh to wear a hoody and jeans! More than anything its climate that I’m looking forwards to, to walk and not be drenched in sweat, to have a gentle breeze swaying the trees and kissing your shoulders, to have the sun be a kind, benign thing rather than an aggressive dictator. It’s what dreams are made of.
So that’s it, my list; this is what keeps me going when I’m starting to get over-whelmed with sadness at the end of things – all that fabulous stuff to look forwards to plus the best friends and family a person could have.
After the horrors of slutty sports day, the next big day for the sprogs turned out to be a huge relief and one of my favourite days in school. Children’s day is one of the best ideas for a national holiday and I wish we celebrated it at home when I was a kid. On children’s day the whole of Thailand engages in what is effectively one enormous kid’s birthday party, no lessons; just party games, party food, party hats and party dresses. Lovely, age-appropriate, party dresses! No hair extensions, false eyelashes or fishnet stockings to be seen, thank Buddha (although today I had a 4-year-old girl in my class wearing inch-long, technicolored, acrylic claws that would have made Lady GaGa herself jealous) . The only exception on children’s day was this girl (5 years old), who did the dance of the seven veils to open the party for some bizarre reason. I’m also not entirely sure why the teaching assistant was dressed in cosplay regalia but I thought having some of the teachers in school uniform was a brilliant touch.
After much singing of songs and dancing the games began; including a caterpillar race which was genius and I have to try out for myself next time I have a shindig. Caterpillar racing consists of having teams squat in lines, holding onto the person in front’s waist and waddling furiously to the finishing line! Brilliant.
After that it was a race to fill your team’s bottle with coloured water using nothing but a tin with holes in the bottom which resulted in me having rainbow feet for the rest of the day.
The morning of fun and general silliness was finished with that marvellous staple of kid’s parties everywhere – jelly (jelo for the Americans) and ice cream. Apparently this is work! One last thought; if you ever need to feel a bit better about yourself (and slightly in danger of your life) walk into a crowd of 600 children with bags of sweets. Instant popularity! Then you start to feel a bit like a Beatle in 1964 and worry about your own structural integrity…
One night whilst wondering around the Malaysian town of Georgetown, Penang, a local told me that there is a Penang peculiarity to keep an eye out for; red lanterns hanging outside of homes. Now in Penang a red light outside a door does not mean the same thing as you’re probably thinking. In Penang it means that there is a bar there, but for some reason the owner cannot get a license and therefore cannot advertise their watering-hole conventionally. Now supposedly some of the cheapest and most fun little parties were to be found, not in the exorbitantly over-priced tourist bars, but in these more subtle nooks and crannies. Never one to turn from an adventure or the promise of some cheap plonk, myself and 4 Swedish fellas I’d found at the hostel set about tracking one down. It wasn’t long till a tell-tale red lantern was spotted and we were ushered quickly through the door. A local woman scurried meekly about fetching glasses and wiping tables and another Malay man sat at the large central table sharing beer and conspiring with an enormous bald European. Said enormous man stood up and opened his ape-like arms wide in greeting, his wrecking-ball fists splintering open and slapping my Viking friends on the back. “Velcom, velcom,” he roared, his powerful jaw still masticating furiously on some helpless morsel of food like a piece of industrial machinery. “Velcom to my bar! Sit, sit, be comfortable! My name iz Zubin, sit! Woman!” He pointed his grinning slab of a face at me, “go fetch drink for men!” and he jerked his head at the bar.
I have to admit I was a little startled at being addressed in this manner and quickly weighed my options; I could submit to this request and spend the rest of the night being bar-bitch to my companions or stand him down. The latter seemed a better option so I laughed, “that’s not how it works where I come from.”
“This is Zubin’s bar, not where you’re from, here womans get the drinks!” He replied, drawing himself up to his full and sincerely intimidating height. I stared back at him, gave him my most charming smile and answered “I’m not that kind of girl!” Then unceremoniously seated myself in with the Vikings who were watching the scene unfold with amused curiosity.
Zubin stared at me for a few seconds unblinking, then threw his head back and laughed a laugh that could crack church bells. His palm slammed into his shelf of a brow with the force of a colliding juggernaut and he bellowed “No no, you’ve ruined it now! I vas going to marry you but now you’ve lost your chance!” The room resounded with (mildly-relieved sounding) laughter. “My wife is a hog, useless old bitch, you ver going to be my new one!” I assured him I was devastated. He spread his thick fingers over his jerking, perfectly round belly and collapsed into his seat which seemed to shriek with shock. The Malay lady scuttled about pouring beer whilst Zubin extolled the virtues of his bar, which was no bigger than a large living room. “Nex’ time you come to Penang you stay viz Zubin yes?” He demanded, “I’m in Rough Guides you know,” (amazingly he actually was).
It transpired that Zubin was a Yugoslavian ‘businessman’ who’d had to move to Penang since, for undisclosed reasons, he was no longer allowed in Yugoslavia. He’d chosen Penang as his hideaway since many years previously he’d married a Malay woman whilst on holiday. His wife, it turned out, was the unfortunate soul serving beers and rolling her eyes good-naturedly every time he told me that I’d missed out on the opportunity to marry him; which he did frequently. She also didn’t seem the slightest bit concerned when he likened her to an old hound or ranted about how ancient and useless she was. I thought perhaps she didn’t speak much English but I struck up conversation with her later and she understood everything. She told me that they had been married for fifteen years, that Zubin was an old scoundrel and that he was paying to put her son through university. She showed me family photos and smiled at Zubin, who was at the time ranting about how he wanted to get out of this ‘shit-hole’ and go back to Yugoslavia where men were men, with unconditional affection. Evidently whatever arrangement they had worked for them. Zubin was adamant that we have the best possible night in his bar, although he tried very hard to good-naturedly provoke me. The combination of high-spirits and a proliferation of frosty beers made for some pretty snappy banter. After one particularly good come-back on my part, the details of which escape me, Zubin leant back in his chair, seemed to fill his entire end of the room and rolled his hairless boulder of a head back sharply. His cavernous mouth wide with laughter, a half-pulverised mash of mixed nuts coating his molars, he bellowed “you know vat, I like you! I think I vill marry you anyvay!” He announced, bringing a closed fist down onto the table top so hard that the bottles danced and clinked. “Any voman can be trained!”
“Zubin, for reasons I really don’t understand, I like you too.” There was just something about the twinkle in the belligerent old bastard’s eye that made it impossible not to, even if I certainly never intended to take him up on his offer of accommodation.
I’ve been searching for a good excuse to share Zubin with the blogosphere for months and stumbling across The Daily Post’s character writing challenge was just too good an opportunity to resist! Check it out here if you’d like to get involved. http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/weekly-writing-challenge-characters/#more-14256.