As I sit here typing and eating Mama Noodles (the 30 cent, more flavorful Thai equivalent of Cup of Noodles), it is tempting to write about the last couple of days through detailed inventory of all the incredible things I've eaten. But I suppose I shouldn't deemphasize the importance of all the non-food related activities I've partaken in, and frankly, I don't want to make you insanely jealous. Because you would be. That being said, fresh Thai pineapple is absolutely incredible and you should be really, really sad you don't get to eat it every day like I do.
Today was the first day I woke up to the sound of my alarm, and not before, which is exciting because it means I'm finally adjusted to the 14-hour time difference! I sleep surprisingly well here, considering I have no air con and my mattress has maybe a quarter-inch give. A fan was definitely my best investment because I have it blowing on high straight at my face all night, but there's not a lot I can do about the rock bed. Oh well.
During this first week in Hua Hin, we are placed in groups and have a sort of orientation before we start the three-week TESOL course. This includes fun as well as educational excursions--such as yesterday, when we visited a Buddhist temple. Quick digression: THAT WAS SO COOL!!! The temple is built into a cave right along the coast, and used to function as a lodging place for monks traveling from the north to the southern part of Thailand, though now it has permanent residents. We climbed about a million and seventeen stairs until we reached a vantage point above the temple where a giant gold Buddha was situated. We're talking maybe 60 feet upwards of Buddha. I'll post a picture, because it is mighty impressive. The view was also gorgeous, so I think I'll post a photo of that too.
After we clambered back down, we meditated and were blessed by the head monk. He presented us each with special woven bracelets, but us females had to be very careful when it was our turn, because monks are not supposed to touch women. Ever, at all. Our instructor said it is common for the whole seating area on a bus to be rearranged so as to accommodate a monk. So the boys got the bracelets put on their wrists while us girls cautiously cupped our hands for him to drop the bracelets into. He was very nice, only spoke enough English to say, "For life happy happy!" while splashing water on us, and took photos of us with his iPad. It certainly was unique. The best part was probably that I bought a wine bottle-sized container of honey made by the monks and I cannot stop eating it--it's much less viscous than American honey, and tastes less like pure sugar and more like...nectar? Vaguely fermented? Anyways, it's terribly tasty. See, here I am at food again.
Today, on the other hand, we just did workshops at the elementary school where we're taking the TESOL course. This week is the last week for the kids attending school there, so we always have to make our way through the masses of navy blue uniforms and lines of high fives that form around us wherever we go. Thai kids LOVE high fives. They will stop whatever game they're playing at recess so they can run up and get high-fives from us as we come and go. Fist bumps are cool too, and sometimes hugs, but high-fiving is definitely their favorite. We are legitimately treated like celebrities by the kids. Anywhere you go--we'll be on the back of a song tao (open air bus, spelled phonetically) and a kid on the front of their mom's motorbike will wave shyly at us--and all over the school, there's pointing and smiling, waving and sly selfie and photo taking. It is so endearing and ego-boosting while at the same time kind of unsettling for me. I don't want them to think I have any higher value than them, that I'm any better or more important than their locally-born teachers. I want to be just another facilitator in their learning process, but I'll never be seen that way, because I represent exotic and exciting and sophisticated and accomplished and beautiful to these children.
I think that was one of the concerns I originally had when considering teaching English abroad; it often sounds imperialistic, like you're going off to confirm the importance of western culture over all and negate the significance of the local language and therefore culture (if you want me to talk about why culture is language, and vise versa, that will have to be a whole other log post). But I had to take a double take in our workshop today. Our instructor was telling us how foreign English teachers were funded in Thailand (remember that 90% of Thailand is rural). Most of the positions are partially funded by the government, and then directly subsidized by the community's parents. The average per capita yearly earnings for a person in Thailand is around $1,081. I will be paid about $1,000 a month. These people do not earn enough to truly afford English teachers, but they know that if their kids are ever going to get out of poverty in Thailand, learning English is their best option. Our instructor said you can get a middle class job in Thailand if you know English, no matter how low you are, because it is the language of business and tourism. Thinking about those parents who pay money they don't have to give their children a skill they can use to make a life for themselves made me realize I really had no idea what I was being entrusted with. It's a lot of pressure, I'm not going to lie, but it's really inspiring, and exciting.
Okay, one more food story then I'm out. During our lunch break, some friends and I wandered the streets searching for vendors--inside restaurants are much more expensive and not usually as fresh--and down this little alleyway, low and behold, were a couple women cooking chicken over a spit. The chicken was probably killed in their backyard that morning, cuz that's how it goes in Thailand. I don't know what kind of seasoning and sauces they used, but holy buckets did it make American teriyaki look terrible. It came with cucumbers instead of a starch because cucumbers come with like everything in Thailand--what an awesome notion--and we all swooned. 40 baht for a bowl. That's like $1.30. We are totally going back there tomorrow. Also, we got fresh pineapple dipped in chili sugar, which was similarly to die for. Kick me if I ever eat in the states again.