Monday, March 30, 2009

erika is employed

I have a job! I’ll be working at a local public/government primary/elementary school, teaching introductory English to cute kiddos. Should be fun – lots of games and acting and singing, and good teaching experience: if I can get metagrammar across to 5-year-olds with whom I share no language in common, teaching anything else will be easy. I’ve been contracted through a nearby language school, Fun Language International, which will not only handle all the administrative things like my paychecks, etc., but will also provide lesson plans and materials, teacher training support, transportation, etc. Pretty good setup for a new language teacher like me.

(added later: Erika teaching Thai kids)

I found the process of getting a job here to be bizarre and slightly bewildering. It was nice to be in high demand: there is such a desire to learn English here that native speakers of English who are certified to teach the language and who have teaching experience are like gold. I had schools fighting over interview times, and could easily have argued for much higher salaries. I didn’t feel right about demanding more money, though, since what they offered generally was about 6 times the rate for the Thai-citizen teachers at the same schools: there’s only so much privilege I’ll put up with, and what they’re paying me will be enough to live quite luxuriously here.

One of the toughest parts was conducting an interview when the people interviewing me spoke imperfect English with very heavy Thai accents. There’s only so many times you can ask, “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” without seeming either incompetent or rude. Added to that is that often I actually had heard them right, and just couldn’t believe that they were asking what they were asking. What the interviewers were mostly interested in were my life story and personal characteristics, from my opinion of my elementary school to my current religion and marital status. Some actual questions (not made up): Father’s/mother’s/spouse’s occupation? Family’s financial status? Who is the person you love most? How intelligent are you? What kind of diseases do you have? What are your opinions on this obscure Buddhist theological debate? Quite unlike any interviews I have conducted before. All my reading of Thai social anthropology texts before coming over seemed like overkill at the time, but every tidbit proved useful: I understand the reasons for most of their questions, and so could answer the questions behind the questions.

School doesn’t start until the first week of May, so I have a bunch of time free. No money, but time. So I’m off this evening on a month-long adventure exploring the natural environment of Thailand from southern tip to northern tip by mountain biking, swimming, hiking, rafting, on elephant back, and occasional cheating train bits. Stay tuned for lots of pictures!

venice of the east

Though their prominence has lessened in the last 100 years, it used to be impossible to discuss Bangkok without talk of its canals and rivers. Bangkok is where it is at all because of the massive Chao Phraya river, upon whose banks the city stretches, empties just south of here into the Gulf of Thailand, and there’s a convenient deep-water tight S-curve here. Originally located north of here and on the other side of the river (long story), the city has always made excellent use of the monopoly this estuary gives to the import and export of anything relating to the entire Mekong delta (i.e. northern Thailand, Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos). The river is still busy today with barges, taxis, tourist boats, and more. The commerce and culture visible from the water gives an excellent glimpse into the true nature of the city: inspiring temples, copious market goods, luxury hotels, and dangerously derelict hovels all line the banks.

The river is only the beginning of the watery nature of the city, though. European visitors of old dubbed Bangkok the “Venice of the East” for the hundreds of miles of liquid lanes that crisscrossed the metropolis, and for the ornate architecture that lined the waterways. Roads were only introduced in the late 1800s for the equestrian enjoyments of the foreign diplomats, and remained lesser avenues of transport through the early part of the 1900s. While some of the canals were filled in or paved over to create today’s roads, most still remain tucked between or beneath buildings and are girded with filthy cement as coping mechanisms for the 6-month monsoon season that threatens to drown this marshy, low-laying sprawl every year. Now, in the dry months, most of the canals are little more than fetid slime tracks that listlessly slosh the trash about and shock the nose, though some are still navigable and utilized pathways for the various water-busses that speed overcrowded with commuters along the old routes. I prefer getting around via canals, as it’s much quicker and cheaper than along the roads or by train.

From what I’ve been told, the city will show its true swampy self when the rainy season starts in about two months: all this extreme humidity and rivers and canals are nothing compared to wading through the streets up to your chest in the muck. I guess I’ll enjoy this relative dryness while I can.