rittycheriah
rittycheriah
Thailand 2012
VIEW FINAL REPORT
After completing my degree in English Literature, I am finding myself on the adventure of a lifetime teaching and doing conservation work in Thailand. Come on back for updates on my working adventure!p> Read More About Rainu →

How To Say Goodbye…

I have learned so much in the process of being here in Thailand in ways that I still cannot count.

I have thought of how to say a nice, wrapped-in-a-bow version of goodbye to this place, but I do not think I can do it. This week at school, it was extremely hard to say goodbye to my students. They all gave me cards with sweet “I love you” and other versions of adoration and praise. In many ways, that is enough to return home with and feel accomplished. My coordinator gave me a sweet certificate that listed creativity and enthusiasm as reasons for why I was appreciated at the school. Okay, so maybe the alphabet and telling time is not rocket science or the arguments about abstraction that I am more accustomed to, but these were the building blocks that I had long forgotten.

In addition, I have gained so many new friends in so many cultures and from so many different traditions. My closest friends at the center range from England, France, Thailand, Germany, and the Netherlands. I have grown a much deeper appreciation for simple language because that is the language that we use to communicate. Before I left home, I leaned much more to sophistication only because that was the main part of my environment.

I have also lost many things as well. I have lost my fear of traveling alone. I have lost my guarded sensibilities about what composure means. I am happier with abstract notions of structure instead of the rigidity of my overanalyzed plans for the future. I can approach the world as it comes with a much happier, less stressed perspective.

I cannot say thank you enough. This trip was a gift and an a priceless opportunity. I am so grateful for every person that has helped me get to this point in my life. I am so grateful for every person that taught me a new piece to the puzzle of Thai culture. In terms of generosity, I have never seen so many totally random, different people come to the aid of a clueless foreigner more than what I have been a part of for the past 3 months. I will miss Thailand. I still do not think I know enough about the Thai culture, but I want to come back one day.

So long Thailand... I came here to make a difference in this world and walked away also being taught.

Mental Work vs. Physical Work

The longer that I’m here in Sing Buri switching between the orphanage work and the school, the more time I have to consider the differences and value of the two forms of work. Both the orphanage work and teaching at the school are signficantly tiring in their own ways. Both are signficantly rewarding in their own ways. Both are important to the local community.

Working at the orphanage, I have learned to become a mason. I help with a few other volunteers to build a wall that will protect the children. Because the children are on school vacation currently, there are only two kids to play and work with there. We mix cement with a spade by hand, pour it into buckets, and sit for hours discerning the shape of the wall. If it is too concave or uneven, the whole thing might fall. All the small pieces of cement and stone built brick-by-brick must be considered for its individual importance.

There’s an odd form of mental meditation that happens whilst staring into the red and gray in front of my face. With sweat streaming down my face, I finish a few rows and return to my spot after lunch. After the work is finished, I can feel the aching from my back as a testament to leaning over a vat of cement while mixing it and then bending over the wall to check each brick for correct placement on the half-built wall. My legs are covered in remants of cement dust, my hands with ant bites, and my feet with more particles of half-dried cement.

In complete contrast to the physical work of the orphanage, teaching at the Wattoei Summer Camp means more mental and intellectual work trying to find the right way to reveal a whole new world of language to the students. The summer camp consists of about 30 children from the age of 7 to 14. With such a wide range of skill levels, the lessons have to be just enough to make the oldest ones learn something new and not push the inexperienced younger ones too far. Each day, I make a rough outline of what I would like to do with the class, but because I know they will show the cracks in their knowledge, what we end up learning about is more up to the day’s revelations. Before I started teaching here, I never though it involved this much improvisation. I always have a few educational games in my back pocket to help them review or master a concept. Each day is an hour-long lesson followed by a range of controlled practice through team or partner games.

By the end of my day, I am thinking more about the details of how I use language and how I can make it easier for my students. My brain is reeling with “maybe I should try this” or “maybe I should do that”. I walk away knowing that the children are really learning and look up to me. I feel like there is an immediate return on the investment I make at summer camp because Birs (one of my students) might hug me at the end of the day.

Just in the examination of the two tasks alone, one can see how my days are so different here. Both teach me so much about who I am and what I am capable of doing for the community surrounding me. Despite the fact that I don’t speak enough Thai to express it, I think they know that I’m really trying to do something good. Ultimately, if each metaphorical brick of my wall is placed correctly, that’s all that I could ever ask for.

Note: My computer charger broke this week with some kind of electrical issues, thus I do not have any pictures for the time being. I ordered a new one from a store in town, but we’ll see if it is actually working/authentically an Apple product on Wednesday...

Same, Same but Different.

Teaching in Sing Buri has been a completely different experience this week as well. I began teaching at Wattoei School, helping as an English teacher. Because the kids are at the end of the term, they weren’t terribly serious about their lessons, but we still had a good bit of fun with language practice. Next week, I begin teaching at Wattoei’s English Camp over their break. Because of Buddhist holidays two days a week, I will only teach 3 days a week. The other two days I will spend working at an orphanage/boarding school doing construction and renovations.

At Wattoei School, the teachers are very curious about my story. I shared pictures of family and friends with them at lunch trying to build friendships. Toe-Wee-Cho is the main teacher helping to guide me in the classes. The students are much older. Generally, I teach students between the ages of 11-14. Their English is better than the younger children that I taught in Koh Tao, and generally, we can play more games and do creative projects because they’re more eager to listen. Even with their longer attention span, there’s no way that they can sit down for the whole 2 1/2 hours that one class has with me in the afternoon. After about 2 hours of language practice, I go out with the kids to the playground for hopscotch, a game of duck, duck, goose, or jump rope.

Wattoei had a going away party for one of their teachers on Tuesday as well. The students were moved to tears while bringing cards, bowing to her, and giving her hugs at a school-wide party. The sense of respect in Thailand is far more visible than I’ve ever seen it portrayed in the States.

The students saying goodbye to their teacher...

At the party, the school provided karaoke, sang by the teachers of course. They asked me to sing with them; which I hesitantly obliged the request. They brought up “Hotel California” and in front of all the kids, I attempted the Eagles cover. I think after that they started seeing me as more than just another volunteer, but rather someone who could have fun with them too.

Another one of the teacher singing a traditional Thai song for the kids...

The food for the farewell party was amazing. There was Thai-fried chicken, som tam (papaya salad), laab kai (boiled ground pork with spices. All so incredibly tasty and made lovingly, batch-by-batch in a mortar and pestle made from wood.

This is one of the teachers making som tam:1- grinding garlic, chili, lime juice, fish sauce, 2- folding in fresh green beans, and 3- finally folding in massive amounts of shredded papaya and carrots. I think I’ll be dreaming of this stuff when I get home.

The orphanage construction work is completely different from teaching. I spend most of the day working with other volunteers to paint, lay bricks for a fence around the school, or do general cleaning around the building. From time to time, the kids come up to us while we are working, so we’ll play with them for a bit. It’s nice to have such varied work all week- from alone to group work and mental labor to physical labor. Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures from our orphanage work this week, but I will continue with that this upcoming week.

When I left Koh Tao, many people told me that heading north was going to be starkly different and would be more “real” Thailand. There are many shared points and different points between the south and the north, but I am glad that I get to help and experience both as if I were a local. I miss my friends from Koh Tao quite a bit. There I spent much more time with Thai people, but now, I spend more time with the other volunteers at the center. All forms of kindness that I am lucky to have in my life. One of the coordinators at the center loves to repeat a local Thai phrase when describing all things: “Same, Same, but Different.” I find more daily that this joking statement is actually a disguised truth.

SAME SAME

BUT DIFFERENT

Adventures in Thai Culture and History

As of this week, I am officially in Sing Buri for the rest of my Lumos project. Koh Tao and Sing Buri could not be more different. Sing Buri province is about 2 hours north of Bangkok. This beautiful countryside varies from epic mountains, to rice paddy fields, and rivers. Last year, this region of the country was flooded severely, but luckily, new dams have been constructed. The monsoon season here isn’t terribly heavy, but it rains far more than it ever did in Koh Tao.

Also, the volunteer company here is far more involved with their participants than my last location. This week was our orientation week and I have a meeting with one of the coordinators tomorrow to talk about lesson planning and gradually easing into teaching full-time at a local English camp. Currently, I live with a British roommate, Kate, and there are about 19 other volunteers based out of the Green Way center. Having this volunteer community to live with and eating meals together is a huge difference compared to being almost completely on my own in Koh Tao. I miss walking all over the island at will, but it is really nice to have a supportive group to talk with new experiences.

Though I am familiar with many of the things that the orientation week is introducing, it was nice to learn more about traditional Thai culture in a more structured way. We took a Thai language class, a Thai cooking class, and made traditional coconut bracelets. I found out that the word for night in my parent’s language (Malayalam) is the same in Thai- rat-tree. My knowledge of the Thai language has become much better. In Koh Tao, I learned much of the vocabulary from Thai friends or other Thai teachers. The Thai cooking class was wonderful. We learned how to make som tam (papaya salad) which has been an eternal mystery to me.

This week was so action-packed I’m going to try to organize it by day:

Monday: 

We spent the day getting to know the nearby Sing Buri town and how to get around. Going places like the department store, banks, and grocery store helped to set up house at the center. The volunteers attended a short Thai language lesson too. After we came back to the center, the local school kids came to the center and performed in a welcome party for us. During the last dance, they asked the new volunteers for the week to come up and dance with them. Most of the other volunteers were scared to dance with them for fear of embarrassment, but I just let loose and had fun with it. Sure, we didn’t know the moves, but maybe the point wasn’t to know the moves. 😀

Tuesday:

Riding in the back of a truck with benches, the 4 other new volunteers and I visited Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya is one of the former capitals of Thailand. The four periods of Thai history are organized by capital: Ancient, Nanchao, Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Thon Bun, and Bangkok.

Ayutthaya became a trading and cultural center matched by no other city for 400 years. Due to European influence many Asian nations were fighting among themselves for access to trading cities and European weapons. Ayutthaya was the location of one such battle from 1765-1767. Because the outlying vassal states did not support the capital strongly, Ayutthaya was brought to ruins in 1767, burned and obliterated by the Burmese. All that is left of the once thriving ancient city is the one temple that became the base for Burmese troops. All other parts of the city are rubble.

One of the monks at the remaining temple blessed the volunteers and gave us a bracelet of embroidered, white thread. This bracelet is a blessing that we must wear until it falls off by itself.

Personally, I am always interested in learning about the history of a country. I think that it is fascinating that some of the same political issues that existed then exist now. There is something unreal about walking through an area that now lays in ruin as your brain is trying to put the pieces back together to imagine the grandeur of that same place.

Nearby the ruins, there was a large market called the Floating Market appropriately. There were shops, food carts, and petting zoos at the Floating Market. We visited there fed Koi/Carp with a baby bottle filled with liquid fish food.

Wednesday:

The volunteers, our coordinators, Phil and Mathiw, and Bum visited one of the local schools Wednesday morning. The school was a temple school, which meant that it is government-funded. The grades who attended the school ranged from 4 to 16 years old. Wat Tha Kam School was so much larger than Koh Tao School. The school grounds had signs with English and Thai proverbs on them. One of my favorites was Don’t Forget Crisis is an Opportunity. In some ways, I think that traveling makes these mini-crisis situations occur more often. The children were really sweet. We would visit classes and play games. I really missed my old students at Koh Tao, but I know that next week, I’ll get the chance to be back in the classroom again.

Thursday:

One of the most interesting things we learned about Sing Buri was its significance to Thai culture. A museum and memorial were constructed in honor of the 12 Bang Rachan Heroes. The farmers of Sing Buri came together to fight the Burmese in the name of their country.  If it wasn’t for these 12 great heroes of Sing Buri, then Thailand as it is now would not exist. The battle of Bang Rachan was helpful for Ayutthaya to buy time to fortify their city for battle. Without the bravery of these civilians, Thailand as it exists now would not have a chance. The people of the Sing Buri region are respected for their ancestors’ bravery to this day.

Friday:

Orientation week would not be complete without a little monkeying around would it? Well, we did just that after visiting Saraburi. In Saraburi, there is a legendary Buddha’s footprint revered by all Thai people. According to the tradition, if you put a coin in the footprint, you will go to heaven. The footprint is about the size of a large bath tub in the center of a temple covered in mosaic pieces of shiny blue, gold, and red. Also, there are staircases leading to the temple that are lucky for receiving wealth, love, or good luck if you run them at least 3 times roundtrip. Finally, there is a small, adjacent temple housing a 20-lb lead elephant that when lifted up by a single finger gives the person one granted wish.

Next, we went to see the monkeys of Lopburi. Lopburi became a center of Thai power after Ayutthaya fell. The town center consists of 3 stupas that were a Hindu temple once representing Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The temple was later converted to a Buddhist temple, but the monkeys who inhabit the temple have been there for generations regardless of the creed of the sacred area. These monkeys have made Lopburi famous. It looks a little like a real life version of the monkey city in Jungle Book. It was a little crazy how desensitized the monkeys have become to humans. There were monkeys doing everything- eating, sleeping, preening, fighting, running, playing. The baby monkeys were everywhere too.

(Friends, I would post pictures, but my internet connection here is incredibly slow right now.)

 

 

Sing Buri Arrival

Sing Buri, right from the first impressions, is incredibly different from Koh Tao. First of all, the volunteer company here s far more involved with their volunteers. So here, I’m living in a community situation, with an English roommate, and eat in a “cantina” for all the volunteers. In Koh Tao, street carts and markets became my cantina and I lived alone. Also, there are about 20 volunteers working on various projects here. From elephant conservation to teaching at English summer camps and orphanage work, all aspects of volunteering are represented at the center.

This week, I will participate in a “culture” or “orientation” week where we will tour the area and learn about the culture before beginning our projects. It helps to transition into teaching to know where the students are coming from culturally. Although I have experience in Koh Tao with the Thai culture, I think that Central Thailand is going to be distinctly different from the Koh Tao version of Thai culture. I’m really excited to visit temples, cook more Thai food, and learn more Thai vocabulary. From island adventures to mountain adventures, here we go friends.

Goodbye Koh Tao!

This morning as I look around my room, all traces of my existence in this space are packed away tidily into airtight and compact bags. Even the Bukowski quote that I put on my mirror is now gone and placed into my personal diary. That quote kept me persevering despite the many challenges of Koh Tao School.

“dismiss perfection as an ache of the
greedy
but do not give in to the mass modesty of
easy imperfection.

and remember
the belly of the whale is laden with
great men.”

-“Advice for some young man in the year 2064 A.D.” by Charles Bukowski

I have made a long list of all the people and students I will miss from Koh Tao. I have either had dinner with or said goodbye to each person. Also, I have never lived on an island before, but the ocean and the stars at night will be sorely missed as well. Last night, I just laid on the beach looking at the moon and clouds wishing there was a way to take that form of grandeur back to Nashville with me.

Looking forward, I have some visa business to settle on the big island, Koh Samui today and tomorrow. I am staying with a friend who is a teacher as well. Her name is Lynn and she has taught in Thailand for over 3 years now. On Saturday, I will fly to Bangkok and take a bus to my next teaching location- Sing Buri. In a total contrast to Koh Tao, Sing Buri is a mountainous region that hardly any Westerners visit.

Despite the excitement of new adventures, I am sad to leave the connections and way of life that I began here. These children and their sweetness will always be remembered before any of the challenges that arose. To all my new found friends, do stay in touch.  I have had some great conversations with many Thai people despite our language barrier. In fact, I was thinking yesterday- I have more Thai friends than other farang (foreigner) volunteer friends. Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that I was wondering how to adapt? Here’s to Koh Tao and all that it gave me- friends, family, sea, and stars. All various forms of vast beauty in this crazy thing we call life. I am forever grateful.

The Sunset on Sairee Beach

Wonder: In all its forms…

Despite the fact that we only had two days of class this week, the week was pretty eventful. The days I was in class, we began reviewing their English vocabulary for the upcoming exams at the end of term. Also, they finished their final drafts of the penpal letter. The letters are incredibly cute with handmade drawings, but many are still a little rough grammatically and in content. The Thai teachers had a training in Suratthani, the mainland, so we had school holidays Wednesday through Friday. During the day, I have been recording, writing, reading, and researching different class strategies for the English review. Also, due to the fact that I am leaving this week to go to the North, I tried to spend more quality time with the families I know here.  I have become intimately acquainted with Grand Master Somsak and the Lofts. Also, Nikki invited Gregg and I to have dinner with her.

This is the template we put on the board for their letters...

Wednesday night, for the first time in almost two months, I had a home-cooked meal. That morning, I had helped Grand Master Somsak finish some English translations for reflexology. After about two hours and a lot of explaining, I think I managed to put together a cohesive document detailing his method. As a thank you, Grand Master Somsak had invited me for dinner and a cooking class with his close friend who happens to be a chef in a nearby restaurant. I was more than stoked about the idea.  Gregg and I followed him up a wandering, uphill trail into the rural part of the island. We arrived at a Thai farm. There were ducks, chickens, roosters, cats, and even cows scattered across the plot of land. In the center, there was a wood house built out of humble implements. The table was set with several small dishes of prepared vegetables and I soon met my teacher, P’Tik. She was using her lunch break to make dinner and teach me. I am very grateful.

I quickly gave Gregg the photography and recording duties while I tried to understand the names of the ingredients and instructions. We made tom yam (a lemongrass and ginger soup), laab (a spicy, ground pork salad), green curry chicken, no-name chicken curry, and fried shrimp. Here are a few pictures of me learning to cook authentic Thai food and the tasty results:

Our dining area and a view of the farm

Grand Master Somsak: The Finest Thai Massage on Sairee Beach and Sweetheart of a Gentleman

Attempting to cook Thai food...

P’Tik: Awesome Thai Chef and my Instructor

Gregg, P’Tik, and Me with an amazing dinner that we prepared ourselves!

Thursday night, we were gifted another home-cooked meal at P’Jin’s house. Many of our students live in the same apartment complex as the Lofts, so we had the opportunity to play with the kids and help make dinner. It was so nice to just play with them in a non-school environment. At one point in our playtime, I had two children clobbering me. I would carry Tara or Charlie on my back while simultaneously carrying Fasai or Sun on my foot. I got quite the workout. Their laughter, screaming, and smiling just makes me happy. I made not understand their language, but there is a universal language for excitement and shrill screams of happiness. Meanwhile, P’Jin made laab, Massaman curry, and spring rolls. I had my first 100% grape juice since I have been here. I thought it didn’t exist! Here are a few pictures from that night as well:

Tara, Sun, Charlie, and Gam looking at P’Jin and Kevin’s Wedding Album with me

Pem, one of my tutoring pupils and 2nd graders, and I making the best face ever.

Dinner at P’Jin’s House... Bottom to top: Pork Laab, Spring Rolls with Sweet and Spicy sauce, and Massaman Curry

The lovely Kevin and Jintana Loft. Incredibly sweet people. I owe them so much.

Friday night, we were again granted great company and good food as we went to a dinner with Nikki and Petter. They are currently living on the top of one of the mountains on the island. It was quite a trek to get up there on a scooter. The pitch black night in combination with winding 80 degree angles on the roads made things interesting. I hid behind Petter’s back on the scooter not wanting to look down lest I have a heart attack. Once we were close enough to the spot, I walked up the hill because the scooter wouldn’t have made it with two people. The view from their bungalow was amazing. It was too dark to capture with the camera, but all I can say is that the vastness of the sky, stars, and sea is unfathomable. The skyline glittered with lights from the boats which were more numerous than I thought before. If Nikki didn’t inform me, I would have thought it was part of the glow from the mainland.  A few of Petter’s friends from the dive school came, barbecued, and talked the night away. It reminded me of my friends from home and our dinner parties from time to time.

Saturday was pretty amazing too. As I finished my lesson plans for Monday, I thought it would be good to get in some traveling around the island and snorkeling. I am 100% obsessed with snorkeling. I had never been snorkeling before I came on this trip. Something about being a part of the ocean just resonates with me. After a long day teaching, nothing could be better than relaxing in the ocean pretending that I’m a fish. Gregg and I booked  a snorkeling trip across 5 different locations. We visited Shark Bay, Hin Wong Pinnacle, Aowl Leuk, Mango Bay, and Nang Yuan. Though we didn’t see much in the way of larger marine animals (like sharks, sting rays, or turtles), we made some new friends and great memories. It is amazing how the ocean unfolds in front of you. One second you think that a cloud of water has nothing interesting. In the next moment, you could be seeing the sun-catching scales of a large school of fish feeding off a reef.

On the coast of Nang Yuan, a tiny island adjacent to Koh Tao. After 3 hours of snorkeling, I was totally exhausted.

Koh Tao has surprised me and enthralled me in many ways. I believed my purpose to be single-minded. I came here to teach. I left home to make a difference in the lives of children. I discovered this week that until I learn to appreciate the natural beauty and families surrounding a location as much as my commitment to one purpose, I could never really accomplish that very task. I can’t report many breakthroughs in the classroom this week. However, I can report a major breakthrough in my normally goal-oriented, analytical, and logical mind. That breakthrough is the sincerely deepened love of my heart for these people and this island.

Penpals and Friendship Bracelets

This week, I feel like I have grown to love Koh Tao for what it is. Despite all the crazy tourists and weird positions I have found myself in, it has become a kind of home. Having taught here for nearly 2 months now, the children and their parents like to hang out with me. I have built friendships with shop keepers and know their stories. Then again, just when I feel like I’m adapting and really getting to understand, I know that I am leaving in about 11 days for Sing Buri.

This week school was a little strange. I learned that the kids do have an English exam along with the rest of their finals. The problem is that because the volunteers are teaching the classes, the Thai teachers who make the exam do not know what to put on it. The classes have changed hands with volunteers probably about 4 to 5 times in one semester alone. While teaching a lesson on meal vocabulary and consonants, a Thai teacher handed me freshly copied “Test 2” which was an activity asking the kids to match the days of the week, color, and write English words. The instructions were in Thai and I was confused about two things 1)where we had a copier and 2) how we could afford to have whole sheets of paper for a worksheet. I’m hoping that I can review the basics of English- alphabet, basic vocabulary, and greetings for the exam. Hopefully, the Thai teachers will consult me or Nikki about what to put on the test.

In addition to our meal vocabulary and consonants this week, Nikki has arranged a penpal class in the US for the kids.  We put up a letter template and asked the kids to fill in the blanks. The template is as follows:

“Dear Penpal,

Hello! My name is ________. I am _____ years old.  I am in the 2nd/3rd grade. I live in Koh Tao, Thailand. My favorite color is _____. What is your favorite color? My favorite animal is a _____. My favorite food is _____. Where do you live? Write me soon!

Your Friend,

___________”

The issue becomes that if the kids are rowdy, we can’t get to do anything cool like letters to their penpals. In one class, only half finished their rough draft. We took pictures of the kids who finished and saved their drafts for the next class. I give Nikki complete credit for thinking of the idea, and I’m hoping we can make it work. It work be really cool for both classes to begin an exploration into another culture via letters.

After school tutoring is working well, with the exception of Saturday. The tutoring pupils I have are beginning to sound out words when reading. It’s really amazing to watch them remember and trying to work out the phonetics of a word. The entire time they are trying to remember I feel all excited and nervous waiting for that *click* in their brain. On Saturdays, the kids or the parents generally forget about their lessons. It makes me sad that they are not taking advantage of the opportunity, but at least I have the ability to offer. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. The kids who are drinking are really making progress. though.

Other than teaching, I realized this week that I only have 30 pictures from the past month and a half. I started taking a lot more because I don’t have much time left here. Saturday was a great day to take pictures. I went to the island’s Buddhist temple with P’Lake (my guesthouse owner’s wife), met a teacher from Koh Samui on the beach randomly, and had dinner with P’Jin and her family.

Temple was really incredible. It was such a gift to get to share in the meditation and rituals of the temple. All the ladies brought savory curries, sweets, and flowers for Buddha. All of these items were shared on the altar. The monks performed chants and we all were supposed to repeat in Thai. I didn’t want to offend anyone with my mispronunciation, so I chose to not attempt. After the service, the monks ate and then shared the rest with the community present. I met P’Lake’s mother-in-law and many other ladies in the community. They were all so kind to me. We all sat in a few large circles with dozens of small bowls filled with spicy, homemade curries. A large bowl of rice was passed around. Then, you were free to pick your favorite curries to top it. After the meal, we shared fruit and sweets. I tried a coconut jelly sweet, jackfruit, and a sticky, egg-flavored sweet. The ladies of Koh Tao are very talented cooks.

From left to right: P’Na (a local massage therapist), Me, and P’Lake.

“P” added to the beginning of someone’s name is a form of respect for your elders.

If they are a grandmother/grandfather, “Boo” is used instead.

 

In the evening, I went out for dinner with the Lofts (P’Jin, her husband Kevin, and their two daughters, Tara and Charlie). Kevin is from Australia and P’Jin is from mainland Thailand. They met here years ago when Kevin was a dive instructor. Their eldest daughter, Tara, is in my 2nd grade class. When I first came to the island, I went to their technology shop looking for a case for my camera and came away with a friend. I noticed Tara’s picture on the wall and started chatting with Kevin. P’Jin has been instrumental in helping me arrange my tutoring lessons. She’s also become a really great friend. Whenever I have a question about anything- school, snorkeling, life, or where to go to eat- I ask her and she helps me out. I feel so lucky to have them in my life, and they will be missed terribly when I leave. I bought the girls bright pink bracelets and P’Jin a blue bracelet to remember me by.

In the pink, holding the heart- Tara

In the blue, making a face- Charlie

Front to back: Tara, Charlie, and Fasai (another 2nd grader whose mother works at the dive shop across from Kevin’s shop)

P’Jin and Me after dinner. Charlie was running around with my camera taking pictures of random people. Haha!

Friendship bracelets, the eternal sign of friendship. I’m pretty sure I made my first one in 3rd grade, yet they are still so relevant.

Muay Thai and more Friends…

This week in school was an interesting turning point. With the discovery that the children cannot read, Nikki, Gregg, and I revamped our teaching plan. We decided that we would start teaching them to read. We began incorporating vowels with new vocabulary and exercises this week. One of these new exercises was a alphabet decoding scavenger hunt at the end of the week with grade 3. Despite the fact that not all of them are grasping the concept, many are beginning to attempt sounding out words. I am happy that we have had a change of pace in the classrooms.

In grade 1, we began teaching the class with the help of the Tuk. Tuk is their usual teacher. She is quite a sweet lady. Tuk has been staying in the classroom to help us manage and translate. I absolutely appreciate everything that she is doing to help us. A few days ago, she had a chart on the board with body parts in Thai. Improvising our lesson plan for the day, Gregg and I switched to using the diagram to teach the children more specific parts of the body in English in addition to vowels.

This is a picture of Tuk and me from last night:

Although, we have made positive advances in the classroom teaching, it seems that my tutoring students are becoming less interested. Tuesday, both students fell asleep while I was trying to run phonetics flashcards that were more complex than what we are working on in class. Thursday, only one student stayed focused enough to try to complete reading the book. Today, all the pupils either forgot or were sick, thus no one came. I’m not discouraged though. I think that they might just need a moment to get into the swing of things. Then again, I literally have only 2 and a half more weeks in Koh Tao. In that short time, I hope to get a lot more accomplished.

Despite the fact that I was stood up, I still had the chance to hang out and teach a girl from my grade 2 class, Pen. It was her birthday yesterday.  After going over a few things and coloring, we went to get her a chocolate for her birthday. She was so excited to have someone want to read to her, spend the time drawing, and go out to get a birthday gift. I really enjoyed getting to spend time with her.

Other than teaching, I am really getting to know the people here very well. Grand Master Somsak, the massage therapist on the beach, sat down with me today and we looked at the reflexology terms he needs me to translate. I had lunch today with P’Jin and her daughters, Tara and Charlie. P’Jin commented that I eat like a monk because I mix my rice with the other dishes. I thought that was just an Indian thing to do!

Also, the English teachers and Thai teachers are trying to get together more now. Nikki’s boyfriend, Peter, Nikki, Gregg, Simon, Tuk, and I all went out to dinner last night. After dinner, Simon, Gregg, Tuk, and I went to a Muay Thai match off Sairee Beach. It was a really intense experience. Their rituals along with the fighting interest me the most. A few “farangs” (foreigners) fought in the match. A few of the fighters were as young as 8 or 9 years old. I felt odd watching them fight, but then again, this is their culture and this is an honor for them.

Tuk, Simon, and Gregg at Sairee Stadium

 A young man preparing for his match...

Two young men fighting...

From left to right: Gregg, Simon, Me, Peter, and Nikki

Adventures will never end for the adventuresome. 😀

Also, I am incredibly grateful to be granted the opportunity by Lumos to be the change I want to see in the world. (Gandhi)

It’s All About Literacy

This week, the whole experience of teaching changed with the change of volunteers. Gregg and Nikki are a great pair of volunteers for me. We work well together. Every night before school, we plan, prepare props, and put together a coherent plan of what we are going to do in class the next day. The unused second bed in my room is used to store all the supplies that we brought here ourselves or picked off from the old supplies.

My tutoring sessions have revealed a whole new layer in the conundrum of language acquisition and culture on the island. I get a closer look at the student’s abilities, their family, and myself as a teacher. With the exception of two students, all of my tutoring students cannot read English. When asked to recognize a word to symbol, the ones they have memorized in shape will stand out. However, generally, the problem comes down to the fact that they do not know how to read. I’m hoping that I might be able to switch from having them memorize English phrases to memorizing phonetics. If they can learn to read, everything else about the language will click better. Rome was not built in a day, but I do intend to at least put forth a valid effort in bringing the students up to check in reading.

Another benefit of tutoring is the time I spend getting to know their families. Word seems to be passing around Koh Tao that I am willing to do free private tutoring. When I go to a new place for dinner, someone will ask me if I’m that teacher from the school. Also, other needs in the community are brought to my attention. A massage therapist located opposite the spot where I tutor on Saturdays asked me to help him translate some terminology about reflexology to English.

Saturday was my perfect day in Koh Tao. I spent the morning tutoring the kids, hung out with the kids while swimming for a few hours, talked with P’Jin and split fruit all afternoon, and ran off to my last tutoring session of the day with Zoe and her brother, Lucas.

Zoe, Lucas, and their mother, Sandrine, are pretty interesting to watch in action. After my tutoring session with the kids, I ate dinner with their family. I watched as Sandrine spoke in French to her children, asked me questions in English, and ordered from the server in Thai. In addition to French, English, and Thai, she speaks Italian and German. I think it is absolutely crazy that she can just flip the switch in her brain that quickly from language to language.

With Monday through Saturday filled with lesson planning, tutoring, and school, the only day I have completely off from all things teaching related is Sunday. Today, I went to Chalok Beach with Gregg to swim and relax. I’m finding that even workaholics need a day of rest. That said, I would rather have the well earned rest after a busy week than spend my time being bored on the beach. This week restored my faith in my cause here in Koh Tao. The families have really welcomed me to Koh Tao and their children are a gift to teach. I’m so excited about my last month here. On the 27th of August, I will go to Koh Samui to finish a visa extension and then I will be on a flight to Bangkok. From Bangkok, a bus will take me to my next English teaching camp in Singburi, just two hours outside of Bangkok. From the beach to the mountains, I’m thrilled to serve through teaching English!

Note: I would post more pictures, but the internet connection is being really slow right now... :( Sorry Friends.