Thursday, March 31, 2011

English Class

First class today for the Tessabaan staff and it was fun! A relief to get the first one under my belt. I gave them a survey regarding what they wanted to learn and we started with greetings and introductions and some cultural information. They were surprised that you should not ask someone’s age or talk about their weight…two common topics here. We also shook hands and compared to the wai. Wai-ing is much more frequent than shaking hands. Pretty much every morning when you greet someone older than you, you wai them…I get wai-ed a lot! Thais like to have fun so every class will have lots of activities. And by the way, Americans aren’t the only ones who are competitive. Four teams vied for first place with vigor! We’ll see if 20 show up again next Thursday when we tackle professional/technical language; a tougher topic.
And the winners…

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Eating Thai Style

Some ideas for you next time you eat at a Thai restaurant. First, no knives. A spoon in your right hand to eat with and a fork in your left to scoop onto your spoon. Rice in the middle of your plate and take small helpings of the food in the middle of the table. You can use your fingers for things like fried chicken however you break pieces off without bringing the whole thing to your mouth. No napkin in your lap. There will be napkins (or toilet paper) on the table to use as needed. When you walk in say Saw Wa Dee Ka or if you are a guy you say Saw Wa Dee Krap – both mean hello. You wai at the same time, bringing both hands together like in prayer and touching your forehead as you bow slightly, very formal! After you have eaten you can say Arroy mak mak Ka (krap), Cop kun ka (krap) which means that you liked it very much, thank you. When they start talking back to you in Thai, you can say Put pasa Thai nit noi! (I speak Thai very little) I use that a lot. Let me know how it goes.
A Thai meal always has white rice with several additional dishes. Usually fish, pork, vegetables and maybe chicken and/or beef all with varying degrees of pet (spicy). Work and my home stay family are very conscious of serving some items either mai pet or pet nit noi! I don’t always recognize everything served, but I try everything (sometimes I don’t look!). Fruit is typically dessert and my favorite!

Happy Health Volunteer Day! (Saturday)

Over 1,000 people in the park on a cold, wet, and windy day (Thailand is still having very unusual weather) not really listening to very long speeches by dignitaries. Bobby and I introduced ourselves, we are quite the curiosity. Lots of plaques and recognition as apparently this amphur leads the nation in the number of health volunteers. It is a great system where volunteers man the health stations and take care of basic first aid and do public health activities and education, including Thai massage! I am excited for Thai aerobics and the massage. The event was still going strong at noon as we left to have lunch with the congressman, amphur head, district chief, and local mayors.
I had lots of visitors all day once I got home, something I need to get used to! I think the nayok’s 2 kids were sent by him to make sure I wasn’t lonely or getting into any trouble. They stayed and stayed…so sweet and helpful….Rosetta Stone can wait another day – how very Thai of me!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Too cute! Graduation was a very big deal as you can see. Lots of dignitaries giving lots of long speeches no one listened to. I was introduced, again. It is actually a good thing to have these multiple introductions as I think the more people know me and why I am here, the less I will be a curiosity and the more people will accept me in their community. They applaud politely with a chuckle at my sad Thai!
I will also be teaching English to the kindergarten, translated as 3 – 5 year olds beginning in May. I think I will brush up on my flannel stories. I loved those as a teacher long, long ago and with my own kids. Anyone with any good story ideas, pass them on. My list so far includes There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, 5 Little Pumpkins, 5 Little Monkeys and a few others. Next week I will start researching flannel in Thailand. If I can’t find it I may be asking for help with this project. Will keep you posted.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Office

It is pretty laid back, Thai style, which will be a challenge for me. A happy volunteer is a busy volunteer! A typical example is the English class I will be teaching beginning this week. It is 2 hours on Thursday afternoons. To begin, I wanted to survey the staff to see their background in the language and what they wanted out of this class. My counterpart thought we should just chat for 2 hours. I explained that I needed more structure to teach a 2 hour class. It was a minor (major even) miracle that I finished the survey, got it translated, approved, copied and distributed electronically and on paper on my timeline…no Thai time for me! I have found great resources on line for fun activities to teach English.
Hope everyone is well!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Peace Corps Site

I have arrived! My location is fairly isolated; Lonely Planet doesn’t even give it a mention. I do not expect to see any other farangs, except for Bobby, a PCV not too far from me. The local ladies are very interested in him and will do their best to get us together so they can see him! It was an uneventful 8 hour van ride.
I have heard that today, first day at site, is one of the hardest days to get through. My first day at work was actually productive and interesting. The language is a huge challenge; even those who say they speak English have very limited comprehension, although better than my Thai. I introduced myself to the staff, set up my weekly schedule, went to a monk ordination (I don’t think you can live in Thailand without some kind of weekly event involving food, music, and drinking!), and began researching English lessons for adults. The Tessabaan staff (where I work) wants to learn English. Tomorrow I am giving them a survey to see what they want to learn, that is if I can get it translated. I also hope to take a bike tour to begin to learn the area.
My home stay family for one month is very nice. They set up an area partitioned off in the upstairs. No western toilet which is a bummer, but warm water – a tradeoff I can live with! Work is less than a mile away so I need to work at finding other exercise.

Last good-bye until Reconnect in June!

My desk first day...roses!

My office

Monday, March 21, 2011

I am a Peace Corps Volunteer!

Dr. John Williams, out going Country Director (he will be missed) and my Nayok, my supervisor (mayor of my site)

with Julia and Deborah

Bobby and me with our supervisors/staff

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What I Will Miss…And Not So Much

I have just spent 10 weeks in Ayutthaya, a province about an hour north of Bangkok. No volunteers will serve here. It is a former capital of Thailand with many ruins of ancient Wats and palaces. The area we have trained in was chosen because it is not too remote and the villages are still somewhat traditional, i.e. a mix of squat and western toilets/bathrooms, traditional Thai housing with outdoor kitchens and not much furniture, and villages made up of extended families for the most part. Just about everyone I have met is related somehow to my host family.
I will miss the canals and the fishermen casting their nets, the green rice fields with the egrets and the storks – butts up as they hunt for snails, the mango trees full of fruit, the bike rides several miles a day with everyone on the routes waving and saying “Hello” or “Saw wa dee”, the pad Thai and red curry at the bamboo restaurant with the very friendly and elderly owner smiling his toothless smile at all his farang customers, the shop owner we buy yogurt from, the smoothies with yuk pon-la-maai, my host family’s kitty who will miss the only person in his life giving him lots of love, my host mother’s cooking, my host father playing with his grandchildren, my ajaan’s laugh, the excellent CBOD and Cross Cultural lessons, and most especially the 66 PCVs I will no longer see/study/eat/play with everyday! I will miss feeling familiar, a part of the community.
I will not miss sharing the road and bike paths with large commercial trucks and mean dogs, the nighttime barking/growling/crying dogs, the mosquitoes, sharing my room with critters scurrying in the walls and ceiling, burning trash and fields with the resulting poor air quality, bike riding in wind and rain, bike riding in scorching heat and humidity, and the pace of PST! It remains to be seen what will follow me north!

Saying good-bye!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Last Week of Training

Everything is winding down as we say good bye to our ajaans and all the local people who patiently helped us as we learned how to be a PCV. A disappointment for me, but not a surprise, is that I did not pass my language test at the level needed for my job. The Language Proficiency Index is an international standard. In Thailand, the TCCO group (teacher trainers) need to pass at Novice High (my score) and the CBOD (community workers and my group) need Intermediate Low. As a result, I have to commit to a language tutor, which was my plan anyway. The bummer, besides not passing, is that at Reconnect, when we all get together in 3 months, I have to take it again. Final review is later this week with the BKK staff which is a formality as they go along with the recommendation of the training staff. I think everyone got the go forward. They still marvel at our group that everyone is still here. By now, usually at least 10% have left.
Please let me know if you have any particular topic you want to read about and if I have any knowledge I will share and hopefully not make up too much stuff! I get that from KayKay!!!!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A PC Kind of Day

A cloudy morning turned into thunder showers as we finished school for the day. After waiting around for 20 minutes or so it was clear this storm wasn’t going anywhere and most of us took off on our bikes (some who ride a long way opted for the PC van). To avoid the dirt roads, Pat and I took the long way home and rode 3 miles in a thunder storm. No matter which direction we rode, we faced the wind! Other than soaked and tired, an uneventful journey. Those hardy souls (fools? or just young!) who stayed on the dirt paths ended up carrying their bikes and caked in mud. The only scary part was the lighting as we rode next to the canals.
Once I got home I was entertained by the local wild life. The cat had fun chasing the baby frogs who come out in droves in our house when it rains. Then she had a fight with the stray cat that lives in our ceiling (coming down occasionally with its very cute kitten) over the mouse scurrying across the floor. And now as I am considering sleep, the rain is beating on the tin roof and causing the mangos to fall heavily right over my bed. The good news is the rain may drown out the usual night noises of critters in the walls and the ceiling. I am sure any day they will break through and I will finally see what actually lives with me!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Thai Wedding

Saturday night I attended a wedding reception and the wedding was Sunday morning. It was a relative of my family’s son-in-law. The wedding itself was about an hour, but there was breakfast, lunch, and just hanging out. I was there from 8 to 11:30 and people were still there when I left. There was another wedding in the afternoon which I begged off to study!

The groom coming to meet his bride.

Bride and Groom

Me sprinkling water on their hands for good luck.

The bride and groom receiving a blessing.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

First Site Visit

I took a regional bus to my site. Three of us were together and met up with our hosts in front of the 7/11, except mine! She misinterpreted 7 to mean 7 pm and not 7/11, so everyone very politely waited another hour and took me to another spot to meet up with my group. Thais are very accommodating.
The tan nayok (2nd in command), the balat (city manager), a driver, and 3 staff from my tessaban came to get me in a very nice van. Tessaban is like the county level of government. We went to a beautiful restaurant for lunch and headed to the home of the Director of Finance who was putting me up for the night. She had a very nice family and 3 dogs that were friendly, wagged their tails, and were well cared for. Did my heart good!
We attended a celebration at the Wat which entailed circumnavigating the Wat 3 times while dancing and listening to incredibly loud music both in front and behind each group of dancers. My group wore blue t-shirts, it was so hot! A group of rowdy teen-agers joined us to the disapproving looks of the dancers. There is a growing issue of drugs and gangs in the country. I think I saw my first taste. I can just imagine there is not a thing to do for teenagers in remote areas.
The next day I got a VIP tour of my new village. Went to the tessaban, the child development center, 2 health stations, the hospital, and an organic fertilizer group. I introduced myself, in Thai, many times, and hopefully did not embarrass myself too much. A lot of my name is, I am from, I am a – you get the idea. They are excited to have a PCV and talking to them and observing, several ideas came to mind. My job though is to wait and see what they want and to become a member of the community first. To work with Thais, you must first be their friend.
I briefly met my new host family who I will live with the month of April. I will be looking for my own place, which I am very ready for.

Dancing in the street

My room

Happy dogs!

Cute Thai kids

Tessaban staff

Friday, March 4, 2011

Thailand Flowers

For Diana!

First Trip to Bangkok

Finally, we get to Bangkok! The PC Office is beautiful and the PCV lounge an excellent resource for the volunteers. There is internet access (down when I was there!), a TV, shower, lending library, lots of travel resources, and just a safe place to hang out while in BKK. The only restriction is no spending the night. We stayed at a very nice hotel and explored BKK…finally a glass (or 2!) of wine and just relaxing with friends. It had been a while. BKK is a large, hot, crowded, Asian city with a mix of old and new, poor and very wealthy. Traffic was awful! Amazing many storied malls with every American shop you can imagine. Several of us had lunch at Charlie Brown’s, a fabulous Mexican restaurant owned by an Englishman, go figure! I highly recommend if you get to BKK.
Everyone figured out transportation and headed out to their sites the next day. Lots of excitement mixed with nervousness. I took a van for 10 hours overnight. Very uncomfortable with a crazy van driver. Arrived with 3 other PCTs to Susan’s house, a PCV finishing up her 2 years next month. She and Heidi, also leaving soon, showed us the life of a PCV in Thailand. They were both very successful and glad to have had the experience.

Bridge in BKK

PC Office

PC Medical Clinic and PCV Lounge

Dinner Out in BKK

PC World Map Project

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Thai style development for all the builders and contractors in my life. Lots of infrastructure build - roads, cleaning canals, laying water pipes. Same issues as in America...where to put the money - infrastructure or social services!! The water towers are everywhere. Occasionally the water shuts off as the tank fills.