Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Week 1 in Songkhla

God I love unpacking when you actually know you're going to be staying somewhere for more than a month. I spent hours today just therapeutically ironing all my clothes and hanging each item up lovingly in a wooden wardrobe that doesn't shut properly because the hinges aren't correctly aligned. It also sports an 8-inch crest-shaped sticker with a cannon and the word "arsenal" on it. This is strategically placed to cover a gaping crack in one of the doors. But I digress.

I arrived in Songkhla after a 12-hour bus ride (9pm to 9am) that was definitely long, but was made more bearable by the Thai television programs playing on a TV at the front of the bus. There's so much screen time devoted to close-ups in Thai dramas it makes everything inherently comical. Sentimental violins swell for a whole fifteen-second shot of a man's anguished face, and because you weren't paying attention, you can't remember if his grief is for his son who keeps getting whipped by this evil monk (who does a lot of intense eye-shifting during his close-ups) or for his wife who was in a hospital bed with an IV, but was then out in a field wielding a sword, and you're pretty sure is now back in the hospital bed. I still have no idea what happened, but I created some pretty excellent memes in my head from those faces.  

My agent--a lovely, soft-spoken lady named Pee Nuch--picked me up at the bus station and then proved to be the least aggressive driver I have ever met. She kept muttering, "Ohhh I am not so good at driving" as we inched along, pulling out into busy intersections at the pace of a diabetic slug, horns of motorbikes and songtaos blaring at us. I think it took us half an hour to parallel park in front of the office.

Inside the office, Pee Nuch went over my contract with me, and we discussed the details of what exactly I'll be teaching. It's a bit confusing to explain, but I'll be teaching three kinds of classes. 50% of my teaching time will be with two classes--one 1st grade, one 2nd grade--which consist of students whose parents are paying extra for them to be in a special English program (known as MEP in schools throughout the country). I will be teaching these students not only English, but health, physical education, and music. Another 25% of the time will be spent teaching just English to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders who aren't in the special, expensive English program. Their proficiency is very low, and they don't have quite as much incentive to learn, so I'm told these classes will be harder. The remaining classes are "activity classes," where students between grades 1 and 6 opt to take an extra hour of English lessons per week; these classes may have just five or six students, or there may be twenty. The alternative option they have is math, so usually they'll end up with me, ha. With activity classes, though, I don't assign grades; it is an unmarked class filled only with activities and lessons of my choosing, so not a lot of pressure.

One of the other teachers at my school, a very nice British lady, lives two floors below me, and she has been a tremendous resource for me, because she already knows all the kids in the MEP classes and has been here for four years. We went to TESCO (basically the Thai version of Walmart) together, and she showed me where all the important places in town are, you know, like the Irish Pub (!!!!!). But other than that, I've been pretty much sailing solo here. It's nice to reconnect with my introverted self and just have some time to decompress from the TESOL course and relax before teaching beings. I've also had some time to explore Songkhla, but to be honest, I haven't gone all that far because 1) I'm terrified of getting lost (my apartment doesn't exactly have an address) and 2) IT IS SO FREAKING HOT HERE. I'll get used to it, I'm sure, but wow, Hua Hin weather sounds like a dream now. I didn't realize exactly how close southern Thailand gets to the equator...ah well. Cold showers are my new best friend.

My apartment is on the major road that runs straight from Hat Yai (closest major city) right through Songkhla, basically to the tip of the peninsula. If I walk south, I reach my school in ten minutes. If I walk north, I run into a jungle that turns into the beach. Now for my teacher friends placed in northern Thailand, I know, I know--YOU are in the jungle. But there are freaky monkeys that watch me and screech as I walk past and mysterious bird calls and things that definitely go bump in the night when I scurry through at dusk, so I wouldn't exactly call it urban. Thick trees and tropical foliage line the surrounding hills of Songkhla, and at the top of one of those hills is Khao Tang Kuan Pagoda, of which I posted several pictures a few hours back. Gorgeous views. Absolutely stunning. I'm not going to say anything more in the hopes that you'll all just come and visit and experience it for yourselves.

The beach wins points for not being strewn with a jellyfish minefield--that was definitely a problem in Hua Hin. There is quite a bit of garbage, as is common here, but there is also an awe-inspiring amount of seashells littering the beach. Having spent my childhood at Oregon beaches (where everything beautiful gets pulverized before it touches land, and where if it against all odds finds its way to shore, someone else got out there before you at 5am and stole it away), this is mind blowing. It happened to me in Australia, and again, I have to stop myself from picking everything up. I still pick up all the shells that look like unicorn horns, though, because I think I have a disorder.

Songkhla is famous for a mermaid statue that sits atop some rocks on the beach. I'm not quite sure of it's significance, except that it has become a symbol for the city. I gazed upon her tonight as she was enveloped by a sea of Malaysian tourists, and she is beautiful. But I was more impressed by a giant cat statue situated closer to shore. I know--a cat statue! There's a mouse too, but I was mostly just pleased on principle that my city has a giant cat statue--this is clearly meant to be my home. Anyways, this statue commemorates some election (?) by conveying the origin story of the two islands in Songkhla bay, which are actually quite close to the beach. Basically, there was this merchant who sailed from China to Songkhla regularly, and he picked up a dog, a cat, and a mouse at some point, and kept them caged on his ship. Well, the animals weren't too fond of that, and decided to create an escape plan. The mouse manages to steal a magic crystal which will help them swim safely to shore. (I feel the need to interject here and say that the plaque was in Thai with a translation in broken English, so I could very well be confusing essential parts of this story). They all become greedy once they were in the water, each realizing the wealth that could be had from the crystal, and it is dropped into the ocean. The cat and mouse each sink, hence creating the bigger and smaller islands out in the bay. The dog makes it to shore, but dies upon arrival, creating Khao Tang Kuan Hill, which overlooks the bay (and has the temple atop it). Pretty cool, right? Minus all the death?

Alright, well here are a few more pictures I took tonight--I'll get the mermaid some day when she's not being assaulted by tourists. Cheers, everyone!

 The "cat" is the big island, and the "mouse" is the little one cut off on the left side of the picture.

Not sure exactly what this monument is, but it looked cool, so I took photos.  

 The "dog" in his final resting place.
 My new room! The colors pop way more in person...I love the minty green walls!
 What will suffice as a kitchen. As long as you have a rice cooker in this place, anything goes.
By far the biggest bed I have ever had to myself. Mwahahahaha.

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