Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Jungle Running In and Outside the Classroom

Two weeks ago, the word "hash" was one I associated with potatoes and corned beef. I now know that it can also be synonymous with running up muddy slopes, over creeks, through wild jungle brush, and down river banks, clutching tree roots for your dear life while desperately searching for the shredded paper trail that will lead you to a truck full of beer and curry.

I don't know how many of you are familiar with "hashing" (not ever to be confused or associated with "hashtagging"), but it's a worldwide running phenomenon with almost 2,000 chapters all over the world. Hashing was started in 1938 in what is now Malaysia by a group of British colonial officers and expatriates who began meeting weekly to run together. According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia,

          The objectives of the 'Hash House Harriers' as recorded on the club registration card dated
    • To promote physical fitness among our members
    • To get rid of weekend hangovers
    • To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
    • To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel

From my experience so far, I'd say this is an extremely accurate description of the Songkhla Hash chapter, minus the second point. Though it was a young South African woman who convinced me to come to my first Hash, the rest of the group is made up almost exclusively of old men hailing from New Zealand, England, Australia, the Netherlands, as well as some native Thais who all have an enormous amount of energy, passion for adventure, propensity for poking constant fun at each other, and a healthy appreciation of Thai beer (namely Leo, because let's face it; anyone with standards knows Chang is out). There's never a dull moment. I was initiated after my first Songkhla run by sitting on a block of ice in the middle of the circle of jolly hashers while they questioned me (my favorite of which was, "Are you a fan of Hillary Clinton or Ryan Paul?"), and then sang some sort of English drinking song while I chugged a beer. After new initiates (which are few, it sounds like, because the group is quite small--only about  15 of us total), about three members are picked on for various reasons--Keelyn left her bag on the beer truck last week and had to run all over town to find it that night, Albert complained too much on the run--then have to sit on the ice until the group deems they've done their time. Then they get sung to and given a beer, and all is forgiven. It's pretty awesome. I've run three hashes now--two in the late afternoon, one as a moonlight run--and I'm definitely going to keep going. Even though it's a bit terrifying--I'd call it one-third scavenger hunt, one-third athletic event, one-third oh-shit-I-hope-I-don't-get-lost-in-the-jungle-alone--it's really quite fun once you know what you're in for (I learned very quickly the importance of but repellent and tall, thick socks when crashing through the jungle). You have to be on a constant look-out for the shredding that indicates the trail, because sometimes the trail goes straight off a path and into a bush, and sometimes you reach an "F" made out in the shredding and realize you're on a false trail and have to turn around. You yell out "On on!" when you're on the trail so other runners know if they're going the right direction, and sometimes you have to do what's called a 360, where the trail stops, and you have to wander about in a circle until you pick up the trail, some hundred yards from the 360 mark. It's a bit nuts, I know, but it certainly makes running on a track boring as hell.

Meanwhile, I've also completed my first week of teaching, which feels a bit like hashing metaphorically, I'm not going to lie. Walking in half-way through the school year with little indication as to where my kids are in their curriculum meant a lot of improvised lessons. However, no one vomited, was set on fire, set anything else on fire, or died, so I think it was a success. My MEP students (the ones in the accelerated English program) are extremely bright, attentive, sweet, and eager to learn, so I'm very excited and lucky to be working with them. My general 3rd and 6th grade classes are a bit more unruly and definitely aren't at a high English proficiency, but they're ultimately good kids and I think we'll have fun. My general second grade classes though....God, I am going to have to learn some patience. I'm not sure how to explain the differences in discipline between most Western schools and Thailand schools...let's just say that if kids start fighting in the back of the class here, unless there's blood, you're supposed to ignore it and keep teaching. It doesn't help when you're teaching 7-year-olds who hardly know any English, so have no reason to listen to you unless you're rapping them on the hand with a ruler (which is what Thai teachers typically do, but foreign teachers aren't allowed to do). So you teach to the kids who listen, and god help the rest, because the Thai government dictates that children are not allowed to fail in school. Meaning, I as a teacher am not allowed to give a student a failing grade, even if they haven't turned in a single piece of work in a semester. So I smile when they shower me in pink glitter and give lots of high fives and fist bumps, and we typically manage to get through the lesson and complete a worksheet.

One of the more privately comical moments of teaching came during my introductory lesson, where I taught my students a bit about me and where I come from. This involved teaching them the vocabulary word "America." Let me tell you, having a class of 45 Thai kids yelling out "AMERICA!!" while punching their fists in the air is quite the sight when you're pretty sure your own American 4th grade class couldn't have reached half the decibel level. I felt both ashamed and extremely amused. And very white. No regrets.

Another interesting fact: kids in Thailand are given very interesting nicknames--usually in English--which you learn much easier than their given Thai names. Some of my favorites from my classes include Hero, Best, Bright, Smart (a kid who is everything but), Google, Fluke, Ozone, Donut, Oak, Book, Nut, Boss, Dream, Cartoon, and Bonus. It makes you wonder how many of them know their significance, or when they'll find out...

I don't really have any new pictures yet, but here's one of where the Hash was on Saturday! Yup, I do not lie when I say "jungle."

But then this was where the Hash was the week before:

So, there's some contrast. It's fun seeing the different sides of Songkhla and Hat Yai--there's so much more than the city and the beach here. 

Alright, well, I've got to go teach my next lesson...TTFN!