Monday, 25 November 2013

More English Camps and my new apartment

I've now worked at four English Camps and each has been incredible. The days are long, hot and tiring but it is an amazing experience none the less. Each camp is held at a diffrent school and its fun to be in a new place as I never really know what to expect. The second camp I did was actually teaching Thai teachers English, some of whom had been teaching for more than 20 years, it was strange to have them listening to me. We ran a similar program to the one we did with the kids and they got almost as silly and as loud as the kids did. It was a good chance for them to let thier down, they all really enjoyed it.

The third I worked was held at a scout camp, it was three hours drive away so we went up the night before and stayed over. When we settled in we were invited to drink whiskey and sing karaoke with the scout leaders/teachers but sadly I had to decline, I was shattered from a heavy one the night before so I had to get an early one. 10AM the next day, when it was break time, I disappeared down to the lake to have a ciggy. Here I came accross three of the teachers still awake, still drinking, and karaoke was still being sung. Obviously they had the day off and apparently a 24 hour karaoke party is the norm in Thailand but it was just so strange because it was all happening on the grounds, that definitely wouldn't happen in England. The English Camp with the scouts was good, they were 16-18 years old and most enjoyed it but I got the feeling the level of English they knew was low and nobody wanted to volunteer for anything, I had to almost drag some students to the front to get them to do anything. The camp was only a one dayer and in the evening we headed back to Ayutthaya where I was given the keys to an apartment, I was told so long as im working for LS I can stay here for free, I was pretty chuffed with that as it will save me a fair bit of money.

My first thought on opening the door to the apartment was that is was quite big, bigger than the rooms I've been staying in at the guesthouses.  It is basically one room with double bed, wardrobe, dressor, fridge and TV. It has AC and a fan, a pretty big bathroom and small balcony to hang out the washing.  My second thought of the aprtment was that it was filthy! My company rent this long term and have various people stay in it that work for them, I dont think any of them bothered to clean the bathroom in a long time and the sheets on the bed were only good for burning, luckily though there was a clean set so I could change them. I was pretty tired again so switched on the TV searching for for something English, my options are CNN, HBO movies and MTV. I got an early night again as I had to be up at 6AM for another camp.

Upon arrival to this new school I discovered we would be teaching primary kids of 10/11 years old, I was exited for it. There were 250 of them so I had a big group of nearly 40 to look after,  they had bundles of energy and it was a full on day. It was extremely hot that day as we were outside with no fans but this camp turned out to be my favourite of them all. All the kids were willing to participate and there was no shortage of volunteers for anything, they truly were great kids. This camp was again only a one dayer and for the last activity we did the baloon toss, it pretty much turned into a huge water fight, it was a good laugh for all. At the end of the day we headed back and I went back to my (still dirty) apartment.

The following day was cleaning time, I asked my friend Fai to take me to big Tesco so I could get all the bits I needed. It was predominantly a lot of bathroom cleaner stuff to random bits like coat hangers and a small rug. I also wanted to buy foam padding to put on the bed as its harder than concrete. After a couple hours at the mall I had successfully aquired everything I needed, and in fact half of the stuff Fai said she could lend me which saved me some money. When we got back she offered to help me clean, I said of course she didnt have to but she insisted, she turned the bathroom around completely while I sorted the room out, she also cleaned the fridge and balcony for me. When everything was done I felt much better, im going to be here for a month of more so I wanted to make it nice. The only thing I need now is a big poster for the wall.

In the evening to say thank you I bought Fai dinner, she took me to a place I hadn't been to yet, it was a weekend market with food, clothes and.. pets. There were a vast array of animals for sale including, believe it or not, an alligator for 12,000 baht (£240). I felt pretty bad to be honest although surprisingly most of the animals looked reasonably well kept and healthy. We went to a bar to grab some food and shortly after sitting down two guys walk past with a frigging elephant! They were selling bananas so you could feed it but I found it highly unethical, the place we were was no place for an elephant. After a couple beers nature was calling so I went to the toilet, here I was taken suprise by an impromptu neck massage half way through peeing. Luckily I had read online that this happens in some places or I would have been seriously concerned. They have an attendant in there who comes behind you with a hot towel and starts giving a neck massage while you empty your bladder. When I was finished he then clicked my back for me, it was invigorating but very weird at the same time, I gave him 20 baht as a tip. Thailand never ceases to amaze me, everyday there is always something.

Last night I went to the cinema with Fai to watch the hunger games, they dont currently have any English speaking movies but I was happy to watch the subtitled version,  she called to check it had subs but there must have been miscommunication as when the movie started there were no subs in sight. I tried it for about half hour and fell asleep, shortly after so did Fai, she said the translation was very hard to grasp and she hadn't seen the first one either so we left. We went to a cool Thai bar where I was the only farang, later on we grabbed a bottle of Hong Thong and headed back to my (clean) apartment.

I have a few more days off before the next camp, this one will be a three dayer. I'm not quite sure where it is, in fact I never really do untill I get in the car. Im looking forward to it. On Wednesday Fai is taking me to Lop Buri about an hour or so north because I want to see the monkeys there that roam the temples.

Sorry this was a long post but I was a bit behind, I'd like to break up paragraphs with pictures but I write this from my 7" tab with the blogger app which is buggy. If I upload a pic it throws all the formatting out and takes a long time to correct which is why I havent bothered. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

My first English Camp in Thailand

It all started with a 6AM rise, I got out of bed, sorted myself out and headed to the office. Here awaited me a ride to the school; the first I would have ever set foot in in Thailand. Nervous was an understatement, I thought I was nervous going travelling on my own but this was something else, the plan for the day was extremely vague and I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

Just over an hour later we arrived, at "Princess Chulabhorns College, Pathumthani (Regional Science School)" it looked pretty modern and I was just praying it had air conditioning, after a quick security check point at the gate we headed to the hall. The staff consisted of: three Thais, two Americans, one Tibetan, one Ugandan and and myself, British. Upon entering the school hall I was relived to see and feel 16 air conditioners blowing down from the wall; that was the first worry over. After the opening ceromony we had to introduce ourselves to nearly 200 kids (girls and boys aged between 13 and 14). I was then pretty much dropped in the deep end, I was to be in charge of 30 Thai kids for the next two days with little or no guidance, just some very basic instructions, lets just say I had to think on my feet very very quickly, initially just getting them into a cirlce was challenge enough so I really was thinking wtf am I in for here. After some rapid ideas though, I had it sorted. My next mission was to get them all to think of a team name and a chant, most of them spoke reasonable English whereas others didnt, in the end we came up with the "Komodo Dragons".

To decribe the rest of the day would be very difficult but with every hour I was becomming more at ease,  the majority of the kids were very respectful and I was wai'ed to frequently. For those that dont know, in Thailand they have the "Wai" this is a traditional sign of greeting and thanks, it involves placing ones hands together and performing a bow. I havent fully mastered it, I think the higher position or status of the person the higher you hold you hands and the lower you bow. As a teacher you are (generally) granted the upmost respect, expect by the kids that see farang teachers as a joke, (kind of like I saw supply teachers when I was younger I guess) In Thailand, Thai teachers can hit the children whereas farang teachers generally cant, the kids know this so sometimes dont show as much respect but I never had any problems. I managed over the day to improve more and more and was able to get alomst all of the kids engaged,  it helped a lot once they got to know me and I no longer felt any apprehension or nerves.  The whole day was filled with a lot of dancing, singing and games and I worked up a serious sweat even with the air con on. One of the main games I ran involved big flash cards with letters from the alphabet. They were all spread around in the middle of the circle and I had a list of words that I would get them to spell. Instead of me teling them the word I would ask a basic riddle, for example, "I am a big animal very famous in Thailand",  they then scrambled on the floor and held the cards up high spelling out "elephant"  it was a great game. During the day when we had breaks the kids would bring us some snacks and drinks over. Lunch was pretty good too we headed to the cafeteria where we feasted on some delicious Thai food and had a chat to one of the teachers in the school.

The final activity of day was "baloon toss" It was throwing a normal baloon filled with water to your partner then taking a step back each time until it bursts. We obviously went outside for this but only after us teachers demonstrated it inside soaking loads of kids. It was a whole lot of fun. That then concluded the first day, I was absolutely exhausted but on a mega high. I really enjoyed it. The second day was more or less the same, we had some diffrent fun games that we ran with the kids which they all loved. For the final hour we had some drama games to keep them entertained, basically the kids all got very load and very silly which was great to see.

When the two day camp had come to an end we were inundated with requests from kids wanting our autographs,  it took about half an hour before we managed to slip away. It was the perfect end to a great couple of days, it proved that these kids really enjoyed themselves and that we had made a diffrence. It was very hard work and pay was low however it has given me a lot of insight and invaluable experience working with Thai children. I shall certainly being doing a few more of these programs.

Tomorrow I'm actually working a two day camp again but at a diffrent school. This time though its for Thai adults who are teachers themselves, I will be helping them better thier English so they can pass it onto the children. Im looking forward to it.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Making connections with local teachers

I've been in Ayutthaya just a few days and already have met many foreign teachers, most are from England and some American. It happened simply by chance, I was in my local "Street Lamp" sinking some Changs and started talking to some people who were all teachers. I met Nick one of the American ones through another guy I met from Indonesia, he's been here four years and has a wife and two kids, he lives a couple blocks from where im staying which is good. He teaches just a few hours a week as a private tutor and has it pretty sorted. He came over the guesthouse yesterday and we spent all day in the pool, in the evening we went out to his friends restaurant where loads of his mates showed up, again all of them teachers. We spent the night drinking tequila and playing guitar, turns out two of them also play so it was a good night.

A few evenings while I have been here I have sung at Street Lamp with the resident Thai band who do covers. At first I wasnt sure if it was cool to get up but turns out it was, everyone loved it. I have asked them if its possible to work for them maybe playing a solo set during the week. Nick the teacher said he knows the owners (in fact he knows everyone on this street) and knows there is a spare room upstairs of the bar, he says it is possible if I play there and bring people in I could stay there free with food and drink; now that would be sick. We are going for lunch there in a bit so I can talk to the main man about it.

Im bricking it a little as I start this job tomorrow,  I have to get up at 6.15AM but the worst part of it is im not sure how I will handle the heat, its unbearable at times wearing shorts, tank top and flip flops sitting doing nothing. Christ knows what it will be like running around with long pants and shoes on, hey ho, I'm sure ill get used to it.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Back in Ayutthaya, and got me a job!

Well im back in Ayutthaya, it's funny being back at a place you know. I went for a meeting yesterday with Roy from LS Thailand and I now have great new prospects ahead of me. The position I've been offered is working at what they call an "English Camp" its not a camp in the conventional sense like I worked at in America, its essentially a place to learn English through fun and games, everything is prepared so I just need to be my normal enthusiastic self and I should get on just fine. They run these camps normally once a week and they last two or three days. If I like the first one and im happy, I think I will continue to work for these guys for at least a month, maybe two, or maybe more who knows. They have also offered me a second "teacher trainee" position which involves working in a formal school environment teaching children, as well as adults occasionally. The pay for this is low at just 8000 baht a month (foreign teacher salary almost always starts at 25,000 or higher) however along with the 8000 they will pay for a furnished apartment including bills which sounds pretty good to me. After the meeting I had to nip to big tescos (yes they have that here i couldn't believe it) to buy some trousers and shoes as all I have are flip flops and shorts. I start on Tuesday.

Im currently staying at the P.U Guesthouse which is voted number 1 place to stay in Ayutthaya by Lonely Planet. I try to avoid if I can some of the LP reccomendations as it typically drives prices up but this place is pretty reasonable considering it's high season too. Im paying 300 baht a night for fan room and there is a huge swimming pool right outside my door. I told the owner that I'm to be a teacher and she was thrilled. The other morning after I'd just woken up she saw me and said "teacher teacher,  please help me" she had recived an email from a previous customer which she could read but she wanted to reply and struggled with this part, she gave me her phone and dictated what she wanted to say; it was pretty funny. She has a daughter here and her daughter has a friend called Fai who is 22, she speaks some English but wants to learn more as she plans to go to America to study. She has asked me to help her and asked what I charge for private tuition (obviously I hadnt thought of that yet) there was an American teacher staying at the guesthouse once who charged her 500 baht per hour. For the time being im happy to teach her about the English language and England in exchange for her to teach me about Thailand and its language. Last night a few of her friends were at the guesthouse and we talked for ages, it is incredible how diffrent this culture is compared to that in England. I find it fascinating.

This morning I went to the gas station and filled up but unknowingly I only had 40 baht in my wallet, the price was 70. I had to explain "I need go ATM, I come back pay rest" I also had to use some hand gestures as they still did not understand. They had a discussion between them and let me go, 10 minutes later I was back and they were smiling.  Afterwards I had a little chuckle too.

For the next couple of days im going to take it easy, I can see myself being by the pool a lot, I still havent been to an internet cafe to upload pics so I may do that tomorrow. Fai is coming by the guesthouse shortly and she told me she has a present for me.

Pai, what a place!

The small town of Pai has a population of less than 2500 people with a lot of refugees from Myanmar. The town itself is very tourist orientated however it is a very chilled out spot with some very cool people. My days here were used to relax in my hammock and do very little with myself, it was pure bliss. We rented scooters so were able to nip around town to pick up anything we needed. The street food here was the best I'd come across,  my favourite had to be the Japanese Pancakes, the woman seving them up was funny too, she wants to learn how to say thank you in every language of the customers she meets and learnt the dutch one from my friend Ralph. We even got a few spring rolls free for being loyal customers.

We went to a lot of the many bars on offer but the best we came accross had to be the Sunset Bar, owned by a rasta named Pat, and his Australian girlfriend Liane. November the 5th was his birthday and we had a mental party there with people fire eating. We bought Pat some chinese laterns as a present and he sorted us out in return some good glugs of Jager. Half way though the night he summoned me to get on the mic and bust some freestyle which was sick. The party went on until sunrise, a policeman showed up but interestly sat down and had a drink. They were certainty operating past the legal hours but there seemed to be no problem here. At the party I met a kid named Dream from Hawaii who goes to Pai frequently with his mum, he seems to know literally everyone in this town, its his 17th on January 12th and he told me to head back up to Pai for his birthday. If im in the north again around that time I may just do that.

"Dont Cry" was another bar which was pretty sweet too, we went there on the 4th and the owner said if I came back on the 5th to help him light a fire he would give me two buckets for free, unfortunately though I couldn't show because of Pats birthday. I meet some cool Thai people in this bar, one of which gave me the pendant from his necklace offered for good luck. It was a really nice gesture and was gratefully received.

I took an overnight bus last night to get to Bangkok, the whole journey lasted around 17 hours and it was pretty dire, not a lot of sleep was had. I am currently now sitting on a train in Bangkok going to Ayuthaya 1.5hours north, however due to large mass demonstration the train hasn't moved in the last hour. The train track has had a steady stream of people crossing with no sign of it ending. I had seen on the news 10,000 people took to the streets of Bangkok on Monday due to an amnesty bill being passed relating to the political turmoil in 2006. There was a huge riot police presence with road blocks as we entered Bangkok on the bus, I kinda just want to get out of here,  find a guesthouse and go to sleep.
Tommorow I head to LS Thailands office to go over some finer details about my job I, starting next week.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Motorcycling In The Mountains

The last three days in Chiang Mai we spent crusing around on scooters, it was without doubt one of the major highlights of my time so far. It was so easy to get hold of them, we just rocked up to one of the many places renting them and cut a deal paying just 150 baht (£3) a day. We were given 110cc automatics and what blew my mind was the extremely minimal paperwork required to drive these things away. Between seven of us they required just two passports, we were never asked if we had a license or indeed whether we had even ridden before, they didnt even take our names and asked for no deposit, it was maddness.

The traffic in Chiang Mai city was pretty crazy though not as hecktick as I thought it might have been. We quickly learnt the rules of the road are pretty much non existent here. A red light is generally optional to stop, the one way system can infact be two way and if you want to drive on the wrong side of the road past a police car (as a couple of us did by accident) well thats just fine too. It was an amazing rush weaving through the traffic, the bikes were incredibly easy to ride and had plenty of gumph in them to pull out of any sketchy situations.

The real fun came when we got out of the city and onto the quiet open roads. The first couple of days when we went exploring we came accross a temple on top of a hill, it was decorated inside with beautiful spiritual paintings with a spectacular view of Chiang Mai down below. On another adventure we came across some hot springs and boiled and ate some bird eggs (quail I think).

The last day we went out topped them all, it all started off with a mission to find the waterfall we had heard about. Upon finding it we climbed the rocky stairs for a what seemed an eternity until we reached the final fall at level 10. In this spot it was safe enough to get in, it was the perfect way to cool down as we were exhausted and extremely hot by this point. After the falls visit we decided to take the long scenic route back all through the mountains. It was the most exilerating ride of my life, we got so high up we were nearly on par with the clouds.  The roads for the majority of it were fantastic, very  smooth and very windy, it was like something out of Top Gear. Half way through we reached a viewing point where all that could be seen was a large lushous green landscape; it was amazing.

I am currently now in Pai, a small town further north close to the Burmese border. We have a huge group of nearly 20 of us now as we met so many in Chiang Mai. In the next few days I have to leave them all though as I am heading back down south to Ayyuthaya. The office I visited there earlier have contacted me and want me to work at thier three day English Camp which sounds like fun. It doesnt pay much but its a great way to get my foot in the door and gain some experience. They run them every week so I think I may settle in Ayyuthaya and work for this company for a while but ill know more after I work the first one.

Im perched right now in a hammock outside my bungalow. We are at "Darling Viewpoint Resort" which has an incredible view of the mountains right from our balcony. The woman running it is a crazy thai hippy, it's very chilled out here. There a nice little pool too so it feels just like im on holiday yet im paying pittance. I love this country!