Heightened Security at KKU

3 weeks ago, we were told that all TESOL classes were moving from our classroom/computer lab on the 1st floor to 2 classrooms and 1 computer lab on the 5th floor. I was excited about it because we were going to have windows! The students were not happy. They didn’t want to walk up the stairs every day and they thought the new rooms were ugly. They were also disappointed that they would have to share their computer lab with the Japanese and Thai education programs.

3 weeks ago from tomorrow, they told us that our new rooms would be ready on Monday. They weren’t. So we kept teaching in our 1st floor classroom. Then construction workers showed up in our computer lab area on the first floor. They had all of their power tools and everything. It was disrupting class and our eyes were burning. Unfortunately, our new classrooms were still locked up and had no furniture in them. We had nowhere to go. At one point I moved my class out to the hallway and taught out there.

We complained loudly about having to teach in the hallway, and they unlocked our new classrooms. Only 1 of them had any desks in it. We’ve been teaching in that room ever since. The problem is, the room we’re teaching in is the future computer lab. It’s much too big, it’s hot, and the air conditioner is so loud that it’s hard to hear what people are saying.

This week they moved some desks into our 2 new classrooms. However, we have no chalkboard in one room, and the other room has an unusable chalkboard (once you write on it, you can’t erase it). We’ve complained about it again. Sarantip’s solution was to move back to the 1st floor room until they finish putting together our new rooms. I walked by our old room today and saw that it had been completely renovated. They even have a fingerprint security system outside of the door! I don’t understand why the education department at KKU needs to be able to scan people’s fingerprints. What could possibly be kept in that room?

Anyway, the situation now is that we can’t get into our old classroom because we can’t get past the fingerprint security system and we also can’t get anyone to fix our new rooms to make them usable.

Croissants

I found a bakery that makes some really good croissants. When I’m feeling lazy, like today, I pick up some croissants on the way home from work so that I don’t have to go back out later to get something to eat. The bakery makes 3 kinds of croissants. Some are plain, some are stuffed with ham, and some are stuffed with hot dogs. I like the plain ones and the ham ones. The ham croissants sound weird, I know, but it’s a lot like eating a ham sandwich.

My one complaint with the bakery is that they don’t separate the different types of croissants, and it’s difficult to tell whether you’re getting a plain croissant or a hot dog croissant. Today I accidentally got a hot dog croissant. 😦

Thai people seem to really love hot dogs. They’re everywhere! You can buy pizza with a hot dog folded into the crust and more hot dog sliced on top. You can also buy a hot dog to go with your rice, or you can put hot dogs into a plastic bag at 7/11 and squirt ketchup and mustard (or any other topping you like) into the bag. For some reason, the hot dog bun has yet to catch on.

Movies!

One of my students taught me how to use a video rental store yesterday. I now have a membership card and a stack of coupons that allow me to rent two vcds for the price of 1, which is only 25 baht (a little over 50 cents). The video store has both dvds and vcds. Many of the vcds have the original english soundtracks on them. I rented two vcds and tried to watch them on my computer. They don’t work very well at all. One of them won’t play. The other one can only be watched in 10 minute installments. I’m going to have to stick with renting DVDs in the future. I’m disappointed because the DVD selection isn’t very good at the store.

By the way, the rental stores have some really new DVDs, like Superman Returns and the new Pirates of the Caribbean. My student told me that she rented the new Pirates dvd. Someone had videotaped the movie inside of a theater. She said that at one point someone actually stands up and walks in front of the guy with the camera! I’m going to wait for the real dvd.

My Broken Bike

I mentioned in an earlier post that I broke my new bike. Well, this is how it happened:

My new bicycle has an unusual kickstand. The kickstand is sort of square-shaped. When you put it down, it lifts the back wheel up. When you’re ready to ride your bike again, you just roll the bike forward and the kickstand goes back up. Last week I wanted to ride my bike somewhere but I couldn’t get the kickstand up. I kicked and kicked and kicked and managed to get the kickstand to budge a little. Then I turned the bike upside down and tried to pull it. I was getting more and more frustrated and started to think about how I was going to have to drag my bike to the bicycle repair shop. Then I remembered the bike store guy showing me a lever that can actually lock the kickstand down. I realized that the kickstand must have been locked. I turned the bike back over, found the lever, and my kickstand problem was solved! Unfortunately, in the process of trying to force the kickstand up, I moved the back wheel and it could no longer turn.

I’ve been avoiding the bicycle repair shop because it is a long walk there and I knew I’d have to either carry or drag my bike the whole way. One of my students suggested that I carry the bike just a little bit every day on my way to school and leave it on the side of the road when I get tired. She said “It’s not like someone’s going to steal it. It’s broken!”.

Yesterday I noticed that there was a motorcycle mechanic down the road from my apartment. I decided to take my bike there today. I worked hard. I held up the back end of the bike while trying to steer with the handlebars. I finally got to the mechanic’s shop and it was closed. I stopped for a minute, trying to decide where to go next. Behind me, I heard a man say a bunch of thai words with “jak a yarn” in the middle. Hearing the word for bicycle, I turned around and pointed to the back wheel. He looked at it, motioned for me to wait, and then borrowed some tools from a nearby tv repair shop. He fixed the wheel for me! I tried to give him some money but he wouldn’t take it. That’s the third time someone has fixed my bike for free.

I’m really happy to have my bike back. I hadn’t been going out much because it took so much time to walk everywhere!

Saturday Cleaning

Today is Saturday, so I’m keeping busy with my weekly cleaning ritual. This usually takes up the greater part of the day. First, I take my week’s laundry downstairs to the laundry room. The laundry service is included in my rent. It’s a great service, except that they won’t wash women’s undergarments and sometimes my clothes come back with pink spots on them. This means that I have to hand wash all of my socks and underwear as well as the articles of clothing that I don’t trust the laundry service with. I can hang the clothes out to dry on my balcony.

After hand-washing the laundry not given to the laundry service, I go back downstairs (did I tell you that I live on the 4th floor?) to fill up my many 1.5 liter water bottles. I use the water for drinking, making coffee, washing dishes, and brushing my teeth. With a fresh supply of water, I start in on my dishes. I hate washing dishes here! I heat up some water in my electric water heater and then go out onto the balcony with the water heater, a sponge, dish soap, and my big yellow dishwashing gloves. The balcony is a good place to do dishes because it has a drain on the floor. I wash each dish and then rinse it off with the water from the water heater. The gloves are a must because the water is really hot!

The next step in my weekly ritual is to disinfect all of the surfaces in the apartment. There are a lot of ants here. The smell of the disinfectant seems to keep them away. Next, I start working on the floor. I sweep the room and then mop it. Finally, I can start working on the bathroom. Bathrooms in Thailand don’t seem very practical. The shower is not separated from the bathroom in any way so the whole room gets wet when you take a shower. I really hate it. Mold is a problem, so I scrub the bathroom floor with a scrub brush (the mop just doesn’t work for this).

The process of cleaning my apartment takes about 4 hours if I don’t take any breaks. Of course, I almost always take breaks, as I am doing now.Š

Nan Khai Trip

Today I went to Nan Khai with Luck and Masayo (the Japanese teacher) to get my non-immigrant visa.  We left for Nan Khai at 8:30 in the morning and arrived at about 11.  We went straight to the immigration office.  We had no problems; all of our paperwork was in order and the immigration officer put a bunch of stamps in my passport.  Luck has gone through this process many times in the last few years and has become quite a pro.  The immigration officer actually recognized her! 

After handling business at the immigration office, we went to a Vietnamese restaurant overlooking the Mekong river.  This restaurant is really popular.  Luck had a long list of orders from people in Khon Kaen.  There were many boxes of food waiting for us when we arrived.  We loaded them into the van and then headed into the restaurant for lunch.  We sat on a deck overlooking the river.  Laos was just on the other side, so Masayo and I took pictures of each other with Laos in the background.  Laos looks just like Thailand, of course! 

After lunch we went shopping in an outdoor market.  The market was really fun.  Masayo & I both bought some clothes and dried coconut slices.  I was impressed with how well Masayo communicates with people without speaking Thai.  She can barter and everything!

We got back to Khon Kaen at about 4:30, and I walked home.  I broke my new bike, so I’ve been walking to work this week.  I’ll write about how I broke it later.  Tonight I decided to go to a nearby coffee shop to read and have some coffee.  The electricity went out while I was there.  That seems to be happening a lot lately.  The entire neighborhood loses electricity at the same time.  I walked home in the dark and sat in my hot room practicing Thai on my computer.  The electricity came back on just as I started to get frustrated with my Thai cd-rom.

Isan Lunch

I just got back from lunch with Nid and a couple of other women who work in the office. We went to a really great restaurant near the school. The restaurant specializes in Isan food. The northwestern region where Khon Kaen is located is called Isan. Today we had sticky rice, som tam, a grilled fish, an omelet, lemongrass chicken soup, and some type of fish dish. We sat on the floor of a fun bamboo gazebo-type thing with a low table in it.

Som tam is a salad made from unripe papaya, fish sauce, chilies, peanuts, tomatoes, and lime. It is really popular; one of my students even said that she lives for som tam. There are two types of som tam: som tam thai and som tam lao. Som tam thai is the som tam I just described. It’s really good. Som tam lao is more popular in Isan. It is much spicier, it doesn’t have any peanuts, and it has fermented fish in it. I’ve tried som tam lao, but I much prefer som tam thai.

Most of the food today was spicy, but not too spicy to eat. It was really delicious and a nice change from eating noodles at the Education dept. cafeteria!

Almost a Senior Citizen

I’m still working on getting my work permit. It has been a crazy long process. Luck, who works for the Education dept., is in charge of helping me get my work permit and non-immigrant visa. We’ve visited two immigration offices this week. Luck does all of the talking at the visits and fills out my paperwork for me in Thai. I just sit there and smile at the immigration officers.

Yesterday, Luck filled out some forms for me and gave them to the immigration officer. The immigration officer started entering information into her computer. When she got to my birthdate, she asked Luck a question and got out her calculator. I figured that she was trying to determine what 1978 was in the Thai date system (it’s currently the year 2549 here). There was a lot of confusion and eventually 3 immigration officers were huddled around the calculator. I kept hearing Luck say that I’m 28 years old. I had a class starting in 20 minutes and was starting to get really annoyed that this was taking so long. I asked Luck why they couldn’t just subtract 28 from 2549. She shook her head and said “I know. It shouldn’t be this hard”. I started watching the numbers being punched into the calculator and realized that they kept using the number 1928. I looked at my paperwork and realized that it said my birthdate was August 3 1928! The immigration officers were confused because, according to my paperwork, I was 78 years old! I pointed out the mistake and we all laughed about it. I’m glad the problem was cleared up. I’d hate to have something like that stall the process of getting a work permit and visa.

I will go to Nankai to do more visa/work permit stuff on Friday with Luck and the new Japanese teacher. Nankai is about 3 hours away from Khon Kaen. People say that there’s a really good Vietnamese restaurant there and that it’s a good place to do some shopping.

Crazy Nails

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One of my students recently got a job painting nails at J-Pon market. I decided to have my nails done! I think she did a really good job. It’s not natural looking at all, but kinda fun! I know the picture isn’t very good. My nails are blue with sunflowers on them. elaborately painted nails are really popular here. I often see students with bright nailpolish and glitter on their nails. I opted for no glitter this time.

Weddings

1655It’s 5:00 and time to leave work. Unfortunately, it’s raining so I’m stuck here for awhile. I’ll use the extra time to write about the weddings I’ve attended this summer.

I know 4 Thai students from NAU. 3 of them (Fon, Boss & Fon) have been in Khon Kaen all summer. The other student is Poom, who has been in a Kurat, a city about 2 1/2 hours away from Khon Kaen. Fon & Boss were married 2 weeks ago. I actually wrote a really long post about their wedding, but then the internet in my apartment went down and I lost it. Poom was married on Saturday.

Thai wedding ceremonies are limited to family, so I didn’t get to see the ceremonies. After the ceremonies, they have a reception for family & friends. Both of the receptions I attended were really large and looked a lot like American receptions. Both Fon & Poom wore lovely white wedding gowns. The grooms wore white tuxedos. At the beginning of the reception, the bride and groom (at both weddings) stood on the stage and answered questions about how they met, how the groom proposed, and what they like about each other. Then, the bride and groom walked around to visit people at the tables while their guests ate. The receptions are shorter than American receptions because there is no dancing.

Poom’s wedding had a few familiar traditions. They had a huge cake in the reception room. It had 12 tiers! Poom’s husband is in the Navy, so after their interview some soldiers came in and held their swords up. Poom & Jack walked under the tunnel of swords to the cake. They used a sword to cut each tier of the cake. At least that’s what it looked like they were doing. The cake was actually fake. I was a little disappointed but also amazed that someone thought to make a fake wedding cake. What a great idea! Poom also threw her bouquet at the end of the reception.

Poom, Fon, Boss & Fon will go back to Flagstaff on August 22nd. I’ll be sad to see them go. I’ve really enjoyed spending time with them this summer.