Classroom Anecdotes

This Classroom Anecdote will take a bit of context to appreciate, in three parts.

Context Part 1: Lesson Plan

Recently, I developed a 3-hour lesson designed to help students improve their listening skills, penmanship, skimming and research skills, and paragraph writing. It begins with dictation. I read off seven questions on a topic, and then read the answers. The students have to copy down each sentence as they hear them. They’re allowed to ask me to spell difficult words on the board. The topic: Who is President Obama? (Obama is probably the best-known world leader outside of Thailand among ignorant Thai schoolchildren, so he earned the pleasure of joining my class.)

Then, I display a neat PowerPoint slideshow I made showing Mr. President’s picture, along with the seven questions and answers. The students must then compare their sentences to what they see on screen and fix any errors. Then they copy each sentence two times. Finally, they notice the grammar structures used to answer the questions. That ends stage one.

In stage two, my PowerPoint beautifully shows via animation that if we put the seven answers into a block of prose, they constitute a cohesive and brief biographical paragraph. The students must then copy the paragraph they see on screen. They’re also reminded of what exactly a paragraph is.

In stage three, they are shown the exact same questions, except that they’ve been altered to ask, “Who is the King of Thailand?” The students copy the questions. Then I hand out a single sheet from a Thai-English textbook about the king. I’ve already checked to make sure the answers can all be found. The students then practice skimming for specific information. I help them along in this process, teaching them to look for key words. Then, I have them notice the proper grammar to answer the questions in complete sentences. They answer the questions then copy those answers into a paragraph block.

Results: marvelous! The students are a little more adept at research, more confident in their writing abilities, and now understand what a paragraph is. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I can give them a simple paragraph prompt and they’ll wax eloquent for five or more sentences on the topic. But they now understand the logic and structure of a paragraph.

 

Context Part 2: His Majesty the King

One thing that any visitor to Thailand immediately learns is how respected and important the king is. He is in all respects a demi-god. He embodies a dharma so superior that he’s a second Buddha of sorts. In the past kings have been retroactively given titles that essentially mean “Second Buddha” or “Buddha Incarnate.” His perceived religious piety is only matched by his wealth. The Crown Property Bureau has an estimated worth of $30 billion. The king is robed in power, wealth, prestige, and spiritual serenity. Yet he is the most Western king the kingdom has ever had. Born in Cambridge, Massachusettes, and raised and educated in Switzerland, King Rama IX has developed Western tastes for jazz music, photography, and writing. He has learned Western philosophy, Western languages, and Western political science. So he’s woven from the finest of both Eastern and Western cloths.

Anecdote:

Enter stage three of the lesson. The students have received their texts on the King to research answers. We’re on the final question: “What makes the king different from other kings?” The answer is essentially his enthusiasm for the arts, especially jazz music. In Thailand, he’s regarded as an accomplished jazz musician. Here’s me eliciting at least that much, if not the bit about writing and photography, let alone the all-too-complex insight that he was the only one born in America.

Me: What makes the King of Thailand different?

(students chatter in Thai)

Me: Guys, what makes the King of Thailand different? See the section on the page titled “King of Arts”? (‘chests’ handout and points to the section) Read that to find the answer.

(students read)

Ploy: He a mu-si-….musician?

Me: Good, Ploy. He’s a musician. What kind of music?

(students glare at each other)

Me: What does the text say? What kind of music? Rock? Pop?

Franco: Morlam!

Context Part 3: Morlam

If you haven’t read my three-part post on Thai music, then you wouldn’t know that Morlam is a traditional folk style of music originating in the northeastern area of Isaan. Morlam is a music of the poorest rural people that talks about the hardships of rural life. It began as an instructive lyrically driven music, but has evolved into a dance music backed by guitars, bass, drums, and synthesizers, as well as scantily clad female dancers.

 

Franco’s intentional joke had us imagining the wealthy, pious, and serious king lead-singing in front of a bunch of sexy dancers in feathery, glittery garb, swooning audiences with tales of a simple poor rice farmer’s life and all its struggles and hardships.

For this image, I salute Franco.

Sketches from Pattaya’s Parties

Hipster Backpackers

There’s nothing more amusing than watching hipster backpackers trying to play the pickup game in Pattaya’s party scene. The contrast of their handlebar mustaches, undercuts, and thrift-shop denim against the salon-shopped hair, painted faces, and skinny tight dresses of the Pattaya princesses is laughable at best. It’s like showing up to a baseball game wearing hockey gear. One whiff of that well-worn denim and hostel-induced body odor betrays to the girl an utter lack of everything she’s dolled herself up for. My advice: go back to Silverlake, the Mission, Portland, or wherever else you came from and try your luck with the ladies donning thick-rimmed glasses, flannel shirts, and black leggings. They’re more your style.

“Wiggle”

No song is less appropriate for the Pattaya party scene than Jason Derulo’s “Wiggle.” Sorry Jason and Snoop, in the Land of Smiles the big, fat butts are a rare commodity here, but your annoying single apparently isn’t. These asses don’t wiggle; they gyrate and stab. In a land where size 1 is considered fat, this song shouldn’t be popular, but strangely is. At least it’s more tolerable than “Mi Mi Mi.”

DJ Remixes

Ever want to hear John Legend’s “All of Me” re-synced to thumping techno? Yeah, me neither. But the DJs do it here all the time. And it’s not the only song they butcher with their hack spins. It seems to me that sapping Magic’s “Rude” of all hints of reggae robs it of the only thing it has going for it. I guess I’ll have to acquire a taste for whiny singing over sawtooth synths. Also, cutting short any track off Chronic 2001 is one of the DJ Seven Deadly Sins. Don’t fucking do it, asshole!

Korean Tour Groups

It’s beyond my mental prowess to explain why a coach bus full of Korean tourists would want to parade their children through Thailand’s seediest city—it’s no secret Pattaya is one giant Red Light. They swarm over a sight (not a site, mind you) and oo and ah and snap pictures with their selfie poles, only to evaporate within 15 minutes. This happened to me when I was at an Arabic shisha bar down an alley leading to the infamous Walking Street. They saw me smoking, gawked curiously, swarmed around me prattling in Korean, ordered their own shisha, coughed up smoke, laughed, snapped selfies, and were gone before I could even understand what had just happened.

Arabs

I think Arabs have to be the funnest people on the planet, besides maybe Brazilians. The younger ones are hands down the most energetic at the club, and most outgoing, too. Even the shy ones seem to emanate a unique enthusiasm. And although slightly creepy, the older ones—fat and balding—carry an air of style and composure when they lounge around their shops drinking and smoking shisha. My only complaint: do you have to play your treble-intense music so loud that I can hear your speakers blowing? It’s saying a lot to say that you’ve got all of Walking Street beat with your godawful, speaker-distorted noise.

Russian Packs

Even with the ruble’s recent crash, Russians are everywhere in this town. And it’s difficult for an observer to determine whether any individual Russian is a visitor or long-term resident, because they make so little effort to fit in. The funny thing about Russians is that they don’t have to say a word and you know they’re Russian. But then once they open their mouths, they’ve 110% confirmed your suspicions. Watching them in the party scene is particularly delightful. They sit in their little packs of 3 to 5 and try their very best to look cool. They don’t say much to each other, but just gawk at all the ladies. They’re usually handsome enough that some unwary passerby will stop to talk to them. Before anyone can blink, these girls are mysteriously clinging to these men who feign absolutely no interest in anything going on around them. But the minute she attempts to walk away, something switches on and they turn into pouting angry desperados. Just relax and sip your Wodka, Chekhov.

Black Dudes (and Black Chicks)

Nothing sticks out like a sore thumb in an Asian party town intermixed with old white dudes than black dudes of an indeterminate age. These guys are here just to remind us white guys that even in this town we’re not as cool as we think. They have a rather tentative relation with the ladies here. Many Thai girls seem to believe the popular idea that “black dude be hung,” and they’re quite frightened by that possibility. But a rare few seem to dig the natural chill that mists off their beings. I’m happy for them that the only prejudice they face has to do with their endowment.

Also, black chicks: equally cool, equally fun, equally head-turning. As with most foreign women in Thailand, you can’t help but wonder what they hope to get out of going to a club and seeing women objectified. Perhaps it’s the different experience of being in those places as an outside observer, as opposed to a desired participant. Lord knows I’ve never seen a man approach one of these lovely ladies. Yellow fever, and no other, is the plague of this town.

Shisha

Everywhere. In every club, bar, lounge, or restaurant in Walking Street. You cannot fathom how pervasive the sweet smell of shisha is in this town unless you’ve driven its streets. Never before have I danced to EDM-Hip-Hop mixes in a dark club with green lasers darting everywhere while a shisha gurgles at my side. It’s unreal.

Pasty Old Dudes

Ah, the Pattaya Retirement Scheme. Pensioners from all over Europe and the United States come here to stretch their retirement payments. And while they’re here, they might as well get a bit of tail, too. So they haunt the beer bars chatting it up with the bar girls. Everyone knows the game: buy her drinks to help her earn commission, pay the bar to take her home, then bang her brains out. The next day, you’re smitten and so you offer to take care of her because you hate the idea of her repeating the same exercise with some other schmuck (even though she had been for years before you ever arrived).

Many of these fossilized farang manage to find their way into the higher class establishments like iBar, Candy Shop, 808, and Lucifer’s. Whether they think the game is any different is unclear. In those places, it’s not much different, and only 80% of the girls are playing it, instead of 100%. But the men gyrate and drink their hearts out. They pretend to be decades younger so they can woo the decades-younger girl who was hours ago poured into her dress. Sorry, geezer, but these chicks aren’t attracted to you, just your wallet. And they say money can’t buy happiness…

Sorry for the Lapse!

Hey faithful readers,

 I feel I may have let you down with the giant lapse in posts. Allow me to explain why. For one, I’ve had to write three 90-minute exams for my classes—classes that I’ve almost entirely winged the entire term. Between having to look up good testing theory to make sure my exams were fair (newly on my bucket list–get education credentials and education Master’s degree), and dealing with the ever-temperamental Microsoft Word when formatting them, it’s been a frustrating and time-consuming process. 

In addition, I’m also preparing for two new courses for the next school year: a first language Mathayom 6 (high school senior) English class, and a classic literature elective. Next year is going to be a busy year for me as a teacher.

 Finally, I actually have been writing. But it’s been a treatise of Thailand’s education. It’s not finished, and it’s becoming rather lengthy. I’m also starting to discover that it needs more research and citation to beef it up. So it, or at least installments of it, will be forthcoming. In the meantime, I’ll post some shorter posts that are completely frivolous.

Why You Should Never Hashtag “Firstworldproblems”

The other day, someone very near and dear to me, someone who is very bright, has a university education, and who is culturally aware and rarely ethnocentric, hashtagged “firstworldproblems.” Since even the brightest, most sensitive of twentysomethings are still using this phrase, I think it’s prudent that I explain why it’s inappropriate.

First, there’s a problem with nomenclature. If you’ve attended a university geography class within the last decade, then you would have learned that the terms “third world” and “first world” are outdated. The term “third world” was coined during the Cold War by a French anthropologist and historian Alfred Sauvy. It was a term used to convey non-alignment with either the capitalist or communist bloc. Since the Cold War is over, these terms no longer apply so simply.

It’s also about implications. “Third World” and “First World” imply a quality or grading system, maybe even a pecking order. So technically, neither term is politically correct. To be fair, the new terms—“developing country” and “developed country”—are equally steeped in implication. As far as I’m concerned, they still imply that one is inferior to the other. (And“developing country” doesn’t allow for the reality that some countries are not in fact developing.) If it were up to me, we’d call countries for what they are: poor countries, wealthy countries, corrupt countries, bully countries. But that’s another essay altogether. The point is that “third world” and “first world” delineations don’t apply anymore, and imply inferiority and privilege.

Second, complaints that are ironically tagged as “first world” are often not in fact about first world problems. I’ve seen people hashtag “firstworldproblems” for things like getting stuck in traffic, people owing them money, and eating too much food. To assume that these are only “problems” experienced by people in the “first world” is highly ignorant, and borderline arrogant. People in developing countries sit in traffic—in fact their traffic is often worse, and rife with much worse pollution, to which most drivers are more directly exposed because they’re driving motorbikes. People in developing countries owe each other money. And believe it or not, people in developing countries also overeat—the difference being that they don’t do it habitually. But frequent overeating isn’t a “first world problem”; it’s a fat-ass American problem, if anything. Complaining that your Wall Street hooker’s tits weren’t big enough to snort cocaine off of—now that’s a “first world problem.”

My point isn’t that every problem is universal—quite contrary. I also appreciate that #firstworldproblems probably stemmed from a lazy attempt to be grateful and put your inconveniences in global perspective. For example, complaining that your 4G speed is slightly slower than normal today, when other countries have connection speeds that hardly rival the days of America Online, is kind of a bit of a “first world problem.” My point: unless you have direct knowledge of what people in so-called “third world” countries deal with on a day-to-day basis, and particularly what they complain about, then your hashtagged attempt at being both grateful and funny only comes across as snooty and ignorant.

Lastly, if you know your “problem” isn’t really a problem, and that compared to the plight of others around the world it’s a trivial inconvenience, if you know that to complain about such an inconvenience is tacky and ungrateful, and if you know that other people in the world would love to have your problems instead of their own, then why in the fucking fuck are you even complaining? For me, that’s most annoying part of it. If you want to complain—go ahead. We’re all human. We’re all allowed to bitch about the stupid, little things that annoy us. But don’t implicate the plight of others as a comparison, only to proceed with your trivial bitching. Instead of #firstworldproblems, why not #pettybitchycomplaint? After all, that’s what it is, and in so many words, you’re admitting that’s all it is. Don’t make light of the plight of others so you can appear enlightened whilst bitching about your own non-problems. That’s insulting to both you and the people who wish they had your problems. Plus, it’s insulting to everyone because it measures people’s economic wellbeing by the complaints they “wouldn’t” have.

It isn’t easy being informed enough to understand directly the daily experiences of people in other parts of the world—much less the experiences of those less fortunate than we are. Perhaps I have a better sense of perspective because I’m living in the so-called “third world” (which is actually a pretty developed country compared to some of its “third world peers”). But I don’t think my expatriated perspective elevates me to a position of greater enlightenment, compassion, or empathy; #firstworldproblems bothered me before I ever moved here. But now that I’ve seen what “third world problems” are, I find the hashtag all the more insulting. So please, for the sake of humanity, or at least my sanity, stop using #firstworldproblems.

Moving to Thailand. Step 5: Take Stock and Unburden

We humans do love to hoard our treasures, don’t we? I’m no different. At least I wasn’t before I moved to Thailand. The problem is that moving all of your possessions across an ocean is extremely expensive. So you have to downsize. This is my downsize story pretending to be a step-by-step guide.

1. Determine what you absolutely can’t do without. 

For me, that included my laptop, kindle, notebook, clothes, and at least one guitar. Those are the bare necessities. One could argue that I could whittle that down even more. Why bring your laptop? Can’t you buy a guitar in Thailand? Aren’t clothes cheap there? They don’t have books there? In fact, there are foreigners who show up in Thailand with only the clothes on their backs. I envy those people for their mobility. But I’m too attached to my reading, my music, my writing, my sense of fashion, and my digitalized life to leave any of these behind.

2. Find out what can easily be replaced.

My room was full of cheap Ikea furniture—stuff that would cost more to ship than I paid for it to begin with, and much more than I could pay to replace it in Thailand. And many apartments in Thailand come furnished with beds, wardrobes, and desks. Household items and other domestic necessities are dirt cheap in Thailand, so why bring them? I even sold my bass guitar and microphone stands hoping to buy replacements in Thailand.

3. Determine what you don’t need or can’t use or bring.

Once you understand how easily replaceable things are, you can start to eliminate a lot of items. But replaceability shouldn’t be the only criteria for cutting fat. I made a list of everything I had that I wouldn’t need in Thailand, followed by what can be replaced, followed by what’s either useless or illegal. So things like cutlery, linens, and my mattress made the cut list, as well as guitar amps, which would need a power transformer (and they’re expensive to ship anyway), and most of my electronics, for fear of paying duty taxes (and many of them require lower voltage than Thailand offers anyway). This list got rather long, thankfully.

4. What would you hate yourself for discarding?

There are some things you don’t need and probably wouldn’t use, but you’d hate yourself if you sold or chucked them. For me, these included my Mesa/Boogie Lonestar 2×12 Guitar Amp with Premium Stock Quilted Maple finish, my collection of annotated books from my university days, and other things like nice North Face winter jackets and camping gear, or my guitar pedal board. So even though they initially made the cut list, I removed them for fear of remorse. These kinds of things you need to consider either taking with you or leaving behind in safe and secure hands. More about that in a minute.

5. Determine what has value and can be sold.

Selling 75% of your possessions can be time consuming, especially if you want to maximize their value. It takes time to research what you should sell everything for, and patience to turn down the low bidders. Selling the stuff I wasn’t going to keep took the bulk of my time in the months leading up to the move. But selling my unneeded, unattached items at prime value went a long way in earning the money I needed for the move.

I sold a variety of items through a variety of venues. I sold my car through Craigslist and AutoTrader (though Craigslist generated the final sale). I sold kitchen appliances, electronics, and miscellaneous music equipment on Ebay if it was light enough to ship, and on Craigslist if not. I sold books and DVDs to used book and DVD stores. Nearly every day from June to August last year consisted of taking photos, researching prices, writing descriptions, managing posts, chasing leads, and finalizing transactions. But the end result was that I earned enough money to not only pay for the plane ticket and the freight for shipping/packing what little I was bringing, but also to put away in savings to sustain me during the first jobless months in Thailand.

6. What can or should you give away?

Come on, you’re unloading stuff. You might as well give that stuff to people who need it. I took 2 carloads to Goodwill, and gave another carload to a coworker’s charity to raise money for an orphanage in South America. I also left miscellaneous furniture on the curb, which made me appreciate living in a Hispanic-immigrant neighborhood. You can leave almost anything on the curb, and within hours it’s gone.

7. Determine where you will store things you keep but don’t bring.

If you followed step 4 above, then you may have items you’ll leave behind in safe hands. You could pay for storage for an unknown amount of time. As for me, I am indebted to friends and family who are keeping these precious items for me—for free! Books went with my bookish friend. A guitar amplifier went with my musician friend. Camping gear and beloved DVDs went with my outdoorsy and movie-loving sister. And everything else, including winter clothing and important paperwork, went with my mother.

8. Ship or Pack?

For those items I was bringing with me, there were two options: ship them ahead of me, or pack them. This depended on several factors:

  1. Duty taxes and customs regulations in Thailand. Some things you can’t bring. Other things are heavily taxed. If your stuff passes through customs in your luggage at the airport, it has a higher probability of passing through undetected than if it passes through customs via the postal service. Also, customs at the airport is generally more lenient if you can convince them your stuff is for personal use and not for sale. That’s not so easy when it’s in an unaccompanied parcel.
  2. Shipping fees. The U.S. post office has the cheapest parcel service, and even that can get costly once you factor in size and weight. And there are restrictions: liquids, fragiles, and flammables.
  3. Airline luggage regulations. This varies by airline. On international flights, you’re usually allowed 2 checked bags, 1 carry-on item, and 1 personal item. All of them have restrictions on size, and checked bags have weight restrictions, too. If you have too many bags, you could be charged a fee for each additional bag. If you have any bags overweight, you could be charged a fee for additional weight. If you have any oversized bags, you could be charged a fee for additional mass. Some airlines charge some of these fees. Some airlines charge a combination of all of them. With China Airlines, you can get raped out of quite of bit of money for even one bag overage. I flew Singapore Airlines because they charged a flat fee for each additional bag, regardless of weight or size.

So that was my process in eight not-so-easy steps. It was exhausting but liberating. The lesson I learned was that my suspicions regarding materialism were correct: it’s burdensome owning so much stuff. We’re anchored to our pathetic residential plots because they house all of the things we claim to hold dear—many things we hold so dear we nearly forget we own them. We fill our burrows with borrowed burdens. Burdens because they seldom satisfy us holistically, and borrowed because we’re all destined for the same fate in which we involuntarily relinquish ownership to younger, fresher hands.