Bangkok

What a month! I’m now officially a TESOL Certified English Teacher, which is pretty exciting. It’s also slightly nerve racking that the next time I’ll be teaching it’s going to be for work and not for my own class, but that’s what I came here to do!

I should start from the move over here, when I flew from O’Hare to Hong Kong. The move to Southeast Asia got more daunting as I got closer to the departure date, obviously, but I was extremely excited to leave the frigid winter behind. When I arrived at O’Hare airport a few hours before my flight, I didn’t have a solid departure date from Thailand to Vietnam. The woman at the check-in counter was really nervous, thinking that I wouldn’t be allowed into Thailand, so in a moment of panic I bought a ticket to Ho Chi Minh City for February 7th, the day after my course was scheduled to end. Love technology and being able to do that on a phone. I got to the gate and the cold weather caused a two hour delay, which made me miss my connection in Hong Kong to Bangkok. The airline put me up for the night at a hotel I wouldn’t have chosen myself for budget reasons, which was pretty nice. I took advantage of the free breakfast the next morning and then I was off to Bangkok.

The flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok was a breeze relative to the 15 hour flight from Chicago to Hong Kong. When I got in and got through customs Uncle Ken was waiting for me to bring me back to his and Auntie Mae’s condo where Will and I stayed on our previous trip. It was wonderful seeing them again. The next day was jam packed, starting with church at the International Church of Bangkok where their pastor was getting ready to move to the States after 10 years of serving there. After the service there was a big going away lunch party with more food than I could hope to try. I was introduced to many of Uncle Ken and Auntie Mae’s friends from church before the end of the meal. One of their friends even wanted me to come teach English at her orphanage outside of Bangkok. Off to a good start!

After lunch, I headed home with Auntie Mae to get ready for a wedding reception for one of their close friends. Uncle Ken and Auntie Mae told me there would be about 800 people there, and everyone took pictures with the couple when they arrived. This was the most intense wedding reception I’ve ever been to.  After you took your picture with the couple, there was a little walk through some pictures they had taken together, followed by food galore. There were about 20-25 different food stalls set up in a ballroom as well as outside the ballroom, all serving different kinds of food. There were stations for bread, Hainese Chicken Rice, sushi, lobster ravioli, foie gras, duck, dumplings, and a noodle soup just to name a few. At one of the sushi stands they had a whole tuna on display that they were gradually cutting into as the night went on. In addition there were waitresses walking around serving other appetizers, champagne, and wine. It honestly felt like I was at a reception for royalty. Eventually, a little animated short was shown depicting how the couple had met, followed by people coming up to give toasts and advise the newlywed couple. There was even a translator saying some of the things in English.

Uncle Ken, Auntie Mae and I at the wedding

Uncle Ken, Auntie Mae and I at the reception

TESOL Certification

The next day was my first day of class. I took the BTS (skytrain) to get there and on arrival my teacher Luke told me that I was the only student after two others decided not to take it at the last minute. I was given the option to wait until the course next month, or to take it solo. As I was already in Bangkok and had made arrangements with Uncle Ken and Auntie Mae, I opted for going solo. Kind of nice getting tutoring level attention without having to pay for it!

Over the course of the next month, my schedule consisted of school from around 8:00 am – 1:30 pm, with Wednesdays ending a bit earlier so Luke and I could go to teach at Fatima Orphanage until 5:00 pm. After school I would come back to Uncle Ken and Auntie Mae’s condo to study for the rest of the evening. Every day I had class, the accountant for UEC Thai (where I took my class), Noi, cooked us delicious Thai lunches for 50 THB, about $1.50. She introduced me to my new favorite Thai dish, Som Tum, which is a spicy papaya salad that anyone who likes spicy food needs to try. It’s incredibly refreshing in warm weather, generally served with sticky rice to dip in the tomato/garlic/lime/chili dressing when you’re done with the bulk of the salad. I’m going to miss it if I’m not able to find it in Vietnam.

The first Wednesday at Fatima I observed Luke teaching to get a good idea of how things go there. I was scheduled to teach two of the classes the following week. Coming from America, I have to say that I had never seen teaching quite like this. The classes were full immersion regardless of the level of the student, and Luke used only the words necessary to convey the subject matter. That combined with gestures and media is the only way I think you could teach with a significant language barrier. I was nervous about using too many words the following week and confusing the students during my lesson.

The next Wednesday I had prepared a lesson for the Intermediate Adults class as well as the Beginning Girls class. For the adults I taught musical instruments and the nouns and verbs associated with them (e.g.: guitar, guitarist, strum). That was pretty simple, mostly introducing a fair amount of vocabulary and drilling the pronunciation of words. The adult class was small with three students the first time I taught them and only two the second time.

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The Beginning Girls class was slightly more difficult. In Thailand it’s not as socially acceptable to show negative emotions outwardly, so that can be covered up with laughter. Confused? Laugh about it. Angry? Laugh it off. Etc. As a teacher, that can be a little daunting when a class of young girls are giggling with possible confusion and can’t express their question to you. I taught them patterns and clothing, drilling on pronunciation and having them identify the patterns before combining the pattern followed by the clothing to make a phrase (e.g.: a striped vest).

The following week I taught the adults as well as the Intermediate Girls class, a much smaller class than the Beginning Girls class. That was a bit easier, however the topic I chose I didn’t convey as well as I would have liked. We went over Present Perfect which they didn’t understand when it would be used, so in the time I had I drilled them on the structure and they were able to put together sentences without assistance by the end.

Intermediate girls class

By the end of the course, I had eight hours of teaching experience in a classroom setting instead of the usual six. It was nice getting the extra time because I know I will only feel more comfortable with it the more I do it.

Thainess Parade

On one of the Wednesdays after teaching at Fatima, I met Auntie Mae and Uncle Ken at the Siam BTS stop to observe a “Thainess” parade. One of Uncle Ken’s friends, Sadru Patel, was in town and met us there as well. He is a professional photographer who was kind enough to allow me to use his pictures from the parade here. You can see more pictures on his website. In the parade they had a version of the King’s ceremonial boat which is only brought out a few times per year. It was quite intricate and cool to see up close.

The traditional outfits worn by some of the people in the parade were incredible also.

Other Experiences

A definite highlight of my time in Bangkok were the massages. I only got one Thai massage while I was there, but it was a phenomenal 90-minute stretching, relaxing experience. Those massages can beat you up, nothing like a massage in the States. They put your body into positions close to the point of pain (maybe painful for some) and afterwards you’re all loosened up and ready to take a nap. It’s kind of funny how much the masseuses crawl over you to move you how they want to as well.

At one point I needed to get a haircut, so I went with Uncle Ken to his favorite place to go. I wasn’t sure how I was going to tell them to cut my hair, but I trusted it would all work out. I waited for a few minutes until I was called to get my hair washed. The woman who washed my hair also gave me a very soothing scalp and neck massage with the shampoo, which was the best way I’ve ever had a haircut start. Talk about relaxing and good customer service. I think that lasted about 10-15 minutes, but I’m not sure. Completely lost myself in it.

When I sat down she massaged my back a bit as well before giving me a binder filled with male celebrities for me to pick out a haircut. I went with the Mark Wahlberg as it was the closest to what I had before leaving. When they were done cutting my hair and styling it slightly higher than I anticipated, the woman who massaged my head and the woman who cut my hair both said, “WOW!” and insisted on taking a selfie with me. I left and had to go back to get a copy of the selfie a few days later. Very glad I did.

Left: hair stylist, right: head massager

Left: hair stylist, right: hair washer / massager

Shortly before I left Bangkok, Uncle Ken retired. There were several events in honor of his retirement, one of which was an incredible dinner at a Japanese restaurant near their home. Auntie Mimi, Auntie Mae’s sister, took us all out with her children and grandchildren and I don’t think I’ve had better sushi in my life. It was all very fresh and delicious, including red snapper, scallops, fatty tuna, and more things that I’d never ordered or tried before.

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Poor quality photo of the sashimi platter, but it’s all I have!

I have to say that the highlight of the meal though was the Wagyu beef, which I’d never tasted. The meat was seared on the outside leaving the middle nice and red, and with the amount of marbling in the meat it actually melted in my mouth. It was served on a piece of bread which soaked up the juices from the meat. I thought that was kind of strange, until they took the bread away when the meat was finished, toasted it, and brought it back. It was just a nice reminder of what we had already enjoyed having been saturated with the Wagyu juices.

After Uncle Ken’s retirement, he and Auntie Mae headed to the States to see their family there. They were so kind as to let me stay in their home after they had left, and Uncle Ken got me in touch with some of his former employees as I was staying in Bangkok for one more week. One of the former employees, Winston, gave me a call and invited me out to lunch and then a costume party the next day for Bumrumgrad Hospital, where they work. It was a pretty hilarious time, I haven’t been to a costume party like that for someone’s work ever. People were dressed up as all sorts of things, and Winston and his friend May were able to get me some scrubs from the hospital so I went as a surgeon. Pretty comfortable to wear at a party. Everyone was very welcoming as usual and quick to include me in their festivities.

Me, Joe, and May

Me, Joe, and May

Me and Winston

Winston and I at the party

Overall my time in Bangkok was great. I met wonderful people, ate delicious food, and was welcomed into Auntie Mae and Uncle Ken’s group of friends and family there. I will miss it, but fortunately I’ll be close enough to visit relatively spur of the moment. There’s always more to see though, so I don’t plan on going back so soon. I’m now safely in Ho Chi Minh City where I’ve been job searching for the last week. I’ve had several interviews, taught a few lessons already, but that will all be for the next post. It’s currently Tet, the Lunar New Year, so maybe that will allow me the time to get a post up sooner. We’ll see what happens!

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Catching Up

Hello everyone!

It’s been a while since I posted on here, but I wanted to start writing again as I decided to move to Vietnam to teach English. I’m currently in Bangkok with Uncle Ken and Auntie Mae who graciously offered to let me stay with them while I get a TESOL Certification over the course of the next month. Classes started today, but I feel the need to fill in some gaps.

After Israel and Jordan, Will and I traveled to Istanbul where we met up with my Dad. It was great to see him after being on the road for so long. We spent a few days in Istanbul, as well as a few days in Cappadocia. As my journals are somewhere in my parents’ house on the other side of the planet, that’s about all the detail I can provide. Highlights I remember were a boat ride on the Bosphorus River, smoking hookah while watching a whirling dervish, and riding a hot air balloon over the caves of Cappadocia.

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My dad and I on the Bosphorus River boat tour

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Hot air balloon view over Cappadocia

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After Turkey, Will and I parted ways. He went on to Budapest to visit his cousin while I went to Lisbon to meet up with my sister Mica and another good friend, Kevin Mason. The three of us traveled around Europe together and had a wonderful time, spending a few days in Madrid, seeing the beaches in Nice, visiting Eric and Remco in the Netherlands, and eventually making our way to Ireland.

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My sister and I in Nice

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Kevin in Lisbon

After traveling, I moved to Minneapolis for a year and a half where I lived with Will and another St. Olaf graduate. It was a great time, but after working at a desk I started to get the travel itch again and desperately wanted to go back to Asia. I quit my job in July, moved back to Chicago with my parents and that pretty much brings us to where I am now, sitting in shorts and a t-shirt instead of bundled up in blankets! Life is good, and I’ll get another post up here about the big move soon!