Sunday, December 17, 2006

Baby elephant

On Saturday Mindy, Jeff, Megan and I hopped on our motorbikes and cruised up to MaeSa elephant camp. O.k... so there are moral issues with some of the elephant camps, and I haven't quite figured out what is considered a good elephant camp and what is considered bad, but I feel like I need to see some different ones in order to form an opinion. The main jist of elephant camps is that elephants used to be used for logging in thailand. Now they aren't so much. However elephants live to be 60-70 years old and eat 250 kilos of food a day. Therefore, once they became obsolete in the logging industry, people had to figure out how to afford to feed them. Thus the elephant camp was born. Some elephant camps have the elephants doing tricks and taking people on rides (the MaeSa elephant camp is like this) while others just provide a nice home and rely on fundraising to pay for the elephants (we will visit this type later). Either way, the elephants (and their "controllers"- elephants and controllers generally work together for life) are taken care of.
So we watched the show along with 200 other tourists (mostly thai tourists). Elephants picked up logs, painted pictures, plated soccer, danced to their own harmonica music, threw darts, and massaged a guy. You can also buy a bunch of bananas and sugar cane to feed to the elephants which is pretty fun because they gently take the food out of your hand with their trunks and then somehow manage feed themselves one banana at a time while keeping the others in their trunk. While you are focussed on the elephants in front of you, another elephant may sneak up behind you (you can't at all hear or feel them coming), tap you on the shoulder and either walk by you or give a snuggle. It feels weird to submit to such a large creature, but when are surrounded by about 5 of them, you kind of just let go.

After sipping some coconut juice, we were preparing to leave (along with the other 196 tourists), when I saw a small sign for elephant nursery. We decided to follow the sign around the corner and up a road and across a field and through the jungle until we found a pen with a mother and a baby. A sign said that the baby was born in March and that was about it. No sign saying don't play with elephant. Nothing about baby elephants are dangerous. Nothing about playing with the elephant is encouraged. There really wasn't much information at all. Being americans, we obviously assume that if something is dangerous, then there will be multiple indications all around to stay away, because if something goes wrong, we can sue the property owners. Therefore, lack of signage means everything is safe. We though about this for a moment, decided to slowly approach the baby (we had just been hugged by 10,000 pound elephants so a mere 1000 pound creature couldn't possibly hurt us) and with time we became a little more brave.
This elephant (its name is BoomSerm) was truly magical. We stayed there for about an hour playing the little guy. Here is a movie of the playing:

I have to run off to thai class, but I'll put some photos up soon.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I love my neighborhood

Moving to a foreign country is kind of like being an infant (or so I think). The littlest achievements seem so big.

Wednesday nights find Megan out of town for the night and me all alone in the big city. (So I'm not alone, there are lots of people to hang out with but I chose to take a lone evening). On a street about a block from us, there are food stalls lined up either side. Most thai people get take away from these stalls, although many of the vendors have set up a table or two behind their place to sit and eat. I'm a little shy to stop and eat because it can be hard to figure out what it is that each stall serves. However, I haven't really found anything I don't like to eat (except maybe that chicken foot floating in my bowl of soup the other day) so I decided to just try whatever this particular stall has. The guys was really nice, told me to sit down and brought me a plate of rice with some of the best chicken that chickens can make sitting on top. As I'm eating an older woman sitting next to me figure out somehow that I'm not thai and kind of keeps looking over at me. So I say hi. She says hi and then starts asking me various questions in English. I try to answer in Thai (although I don't really know enough yet to answer much) and soon we are talking. She just finished taking a course in English from the British consulate and really wants to practice her english. So here I am, sitting at a food stall in my neighborhood, talking to my neighbor and feeling like I belong here.

After a while, I leave the stall still feeling a bit hungry so I go to another stall that is only take away and order some Kale type thing, rice, and some amazing chile sauce all in thai. The woman serving it up smiles and waits patiently as I try to speak thai, and sure enough, I get what I thought I was going to get. I'm pretty much feeling like the man.

This must be how infants feel the first time they learn to communicate exactly what they want.

Oh yeah, and I can read again. The thai letters are starting to make sense. It may take me about 30 seconds to sound out words, and I have no idea what the words mean once I say them, but at least I can read again. Maybe I'm progressing to the feeling a 5 year old gets.

And here are some cute dogs on a rack.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

We live here

From the same set of photos as the last one.
The smog doesn't seem so bad when you are living in it.

Weather Forcast in Chiang Mai

I saw this in a local magazine the other day:

It stopped raing on October 12. Since then, the temperatures have been warmer than usual with average highs around 28 to 32 [celcius]. It will cool off more in December with the lowest highs (20-25) in early january. It will rain for 5 days between December 20 and the New Year due to winds from Burma. After that it will not rain until April.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Teaching in Thailand

Over the last couple of days I began my adventurous teaching career in Thailand and I have been constantly giggling inside wondering how I managed to get into this position. I’ve been waiting and waiting to go back to work. I've missed the children and the schedule... It sounds really weird, but there is something about not working that drives me crazy, literally CRAZY, you can ask Marshall. Many of you know this, but before coming to Thailand I found a job at a newly developed Montessori school that was started for what was described as “orphans”. The children will stay there until they turn 18 and then go off to University.

Picture me staring at a dozen small Southeast Asian children that are completely identical looking. They all have the same haircut and look a whole lot like twins. They’ve had an introduction of me as this science teacher/rock climber/ sign language specialist/ English teacher coming to teach them all she knows. That's actually not all that hard to imagine. Now, picture me staring at a bunch of Thai adults who have had the same introduction and me trying to justify what it is I really know how to do, which is strictly work within a Montessori Classroom structure. That was a funny interaction. One would think if they're headed to Thailand to teach in a Montessori school that one would arrive at the final destination and be welcomed to a Montessori type environment with Montessori type materials. Well, not so much in Thailand. Here the younger children kinda-sorta have a Montessori type of classroom (except that all the subjects are in different rooms where there may or may not be a teacher) and then they turn 5 and head off to the Elementary classroom where they sit at desks for 8 hours and stare at a white erase board and copy everything written on the board. The worst part is I took part in this. I stood in front of a classroom and read from a workbook and tried to teach English to children who had no idea what I was saying. Lucky for me, I know when my students do not understand what I’m trying to teach. Small children don’t ignore you when they’re not interested in what your teaching. Instead they throw themselves on the ground and start screaming. For anyone who has any idea how a Montessori classroom runs this is completely backwards from how I was trained to teach. I have no idea how to work with children with a workbook and white erase board. I was sweating, my heart was thumping, and there were two Thai Teachers staring at me wondering what magic I was going to create for these children to learn English. Needless to say the next day I went into class and told them I can only teach sitting on a carpet with only a few children at a time and only when they want to learn English. This so isn't going to happen, but it's worth a try.

Fortunately the children are absolutely amazing. They are all incredibly excited about learning about anything, which makes it easy to come up with lesson plans. The problem comes when they have a massive meltdown and become large puddles on the floor. Then I have no idea what to do because they certainly don't have enough English or Thai for that matter under their belts to have any sort of rational conversation. Which, I pride myself on with having with younger children. I'm sure I'll figure it out and have a whole lot more giggling on the inside.

Hope all is well and you're enjoying the snow for us --
love - Megan