Happy Thanksgiving

Today, unsurprisingly, doesn’t feel anything like Thanksgiving here in Surat. There are no decorations, no parades, no turkey trots, no feasts, no football, no big family gatherings, and no days off from school. In fact, Thida served about the most farang-unfriendly meal possible today, with dried salted fish and a fishy fermented soup. Ugh.

But… in 46 hours and 36 minutes we’ll have our annual Super English Thanksgiving party at Sweet Kitchen! (who’s counting, though?…) This is our third Thanksgiving in Surat, and this has been one of my absolute favorite SE events throughout our time here. Each year that we’ve been here, Peter has bought us a massive Thanksgiving feast at a restaurant run by a chef who spent a long time in America. Stuffing, mac n’ cheese, and lots of other great food. It’s a taste of home and I can’t wait!

Only 46 hours and 34 minutes now!

Thida Christmas Dance Assembly! (or, what the fox said)

We weren’t required to be at Thida on Friday, Dec 20th for the students’ dance shows, but Amanda and I went anyway. It was chaos. Thousands of students everywhere. Each section had their own dance set up; and each student in each section wore extravagant costumes and makeup as well. It was a conveyor belt of cute little dances, but eventually each Thai pop song blended into the next.

IMG_1010 IMG_1009 IMG_1034

Finally, what I was waiting for, after 2 hours, was finally happening:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYtQsCX7GXQ

Most of them are in my P1 MEP class, but there are a few P2 students as well. Chon is the one in the center wearing jeans. He’ll be a superstar one day.

Thida: Sports Day

Sports day is quickly approaching and for the past couple of weeks all of the students have been preparing.

You’re probably thinking, “Oh that’s great! There’s a lot of emphasis on sports and exercise at Thida!” Wrong!

As far as I can tell, the students are practicing to march, and only march. The students have been stomping around the school with marching batons and a Thai teacher tooting a whistle at them as they step in time. And to what end? What really is the point of half of my students missing important lessons (important to me at least) so they can slog around like infantry?

I walked up to a few of the girls in my P5 class today after school and they were standing around with their batons. “What can you guys do with those?” I asked. “What have you been practicing to do?”

One of them responded by stomping her feet and pulling the baton to her chest and thrusting it outward in time. She then laughed and shrugged her shoulders, as if to say “That’s about it.”

As far as I can tell, the only real sports that will be happening on “Sports Day,” will be the volleyball game between the English teachers and the Thai teachers. I’m using the word “game” loosely here, seeing as the Thai teachers have been practicing for this game for nearly three months and we’ve done nothing of the sort. I think slaughter  may be a bit more appropriate. Either way, it will be a fun day of school, that’s for sure.

– Jade

Sticker EXPLOSION!

I’m sure most of us have at least vague memories of elementary school Valentine’s Day parties growing up. I remember the ‘Ninja Turtles’ and ‘My Little Ponies’ valentine cards that every kid brought to school to stuff into the boxes we’d crafted in the preceding days. Every kid was required to give every other kid a valentine, but you wanted to give the coolest ones to your best friends, and of course, you had to be strategic and make sure not to give the mushy ones to girls who might get the wrong impression. In recent years, I’ve chuckled upon seeing parents making a last-minute rush on Feb. 13th to pick up just the right cards for their kids to take the next day.

In Thailand, kids don’t give out witty Valentine cards. Instead they arrive at school armed with incalculable masses of stickers. They waste no time in smashing the stickers onto everything from their notebooks to their homework to – their favorite – teachers’ clothing. Immediately after setting down my bag in my first class, I was mobbed by all 55 students sticking hearts, puckered lips, pink bears, balloons (and Liverpool FC logos…?) with Thai phrases on my shirt. This continued throughout the day, and the first 5 minutes of every class were surrendered to “smother the teacher with stickers, plastic roses, and candy” time.

By the end of the day we were all covered in stickers. I counted over a hundred still attached to my shirt as I peeled them off after my last class and reapplied to a blank paper as evidence of the day’s craziness. Valentine’s Day in Thailand is a HUGE day for the young kids, and I’m glad as a teacher I got to enjoy the fun of it.

Chinese New Year

Today officially marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year — the year of the snake. Here in Thailand, people like to celebrate all the New Years. There is the modern New Year on January 1, Chinese New Year, and Thai New Year (Songkran festival). For all these New Years there are celebrations of some kind in Thailand, with the Thai New Year obviously being the biggest and grandest, where everyone heads to the streets for a massive country-wide water fight.

For the Chinese New Year, celebrations began early yesterday morning, at 6:45 A.M. to be exact. I was lying in bed when before the sun even came up I heard, “Boom! Boom! Boom!” Firecrackers. At 6:45 A.M. Progressively getting louder and louder. Around 9:00 A.M some of our neighbors set off what seemed to be a huge strand of fireworks that went from out front gate, down the sidewalk 100 feet, around and behind the building, and then filled our whole room with smoke.

While the fireworks were crackling their way down the sidewalk, we opened the door to our balcony at the big house, which overlooks the street. In front of our house there were 10-15 cars parked. Their front hoods were all adorned with a flower and propped open. In front of each car sat a table covered in TONS of food. A whole duck, rice, a massive platter of many fruits, a bottle of whiskey, a fanta, bottles of water, and many other foods. As we watched, we saw people putting burning incense sticks into the food and praying.

In the evening, we went downtown, where the streets looked magical lined in hundreds of red Chinese lanterns. These lanterns lined many of the streets all over town to mark the Chinese New Year celebration.

Besides the firecrackers, food offerings, and beautiful lanterns, I’m not sure if much as went on, but it was neat to see another celebration in Thailand. Every festival and holiday in Thailand seems to bring something new and exciting!

Christmas at Thida, pt. 2 — by Catherine

The last couple of days at Thidamaepra school proved to be nothing less than a grand ole time. On Thursday, we were required to teach our regularly scheduled classes, but this proved to be quite the challenge with the carnival that was happening in the courtyard. Full of bounce houses and carnival games, I was surprised to see any of my students when I showed up for class. Knowing this was going to happen, I was prepared to play games in all of my classes, which is what we did, adding to the fun.

On Friday, classes were cancelled, but Friday night was the Thida Christmas party for the teachers. I had heard about this party way before it happened, as this is where the infamous performances happen. The teachers perform for each other at this party, including ourselves. I volunteered to coordinate our performance and choreographed a dance to a dubstep version of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, complete with me hula-hooping. Luckily, there were nine of us performing, so each of us could be a reindeer. The performance went very well, especially when Amanda’s shoe came flying off into the audience. I think the liquid courage (whiskey) they put on all of the tables really helped.

The party was also a dinner party, and we were fed some very delicious and interesting food. The first dish was a tray of what appeared to be dim sum, complete with fish balls and fish tofu (fishfu). Then, came out the dish of the night: fish stomach soup. Yes I tried it, and yes it was weird, but at least I tried it! They also brought us cashew chicken (I ate the cashews), some kind of stuffed duck thing, noodles with huge prawns complete with their heads still attached, and I’m pretty sure there was some sort of rice dish as well. For desert, they brought us a Thai fruit that was floating in sugar water, it reminded me of peaches.

I wasn’t expecting to have so much fun at the Thida Christmas party, I thought it was going to be a boring work function. Instead, I was delightfully surprised with all of the great performances. Plus, it’s always nice to get free food! I’m so glad that I’m getting so much Christmas energy from Thailand, I honestly didn’t expect it. Being away from my family on Christmas will be difficult, but at least there’s still the Christmas spirit here!

Christmas at Old Thida — by Catherine

So it’s not even the day of the main Christmas event, but it sure did feel like it today! Pretty much the whole month of December has been filled with practices for the famous Thida Christmas performance. Before I even starting teaching at Old Thida, I had heard about how the Christmas show was a huge deal. Previous teachers told me that students would be pulled out of my class left and right, or you might get to class and half of them would be gone, or you might get to class, and no one is there. Well, all of this has definitely happened, especially in these past couple of weeks.

Last week I integrated Christmas songs into my lessons for my Mattayom 2 students as we were learning about holidays and traditions. In my Mattayom 1 and 3 classes, I would let them practice their songs as a reward or during testing while I sat in the hall quizzing students. This week, however, has been like Christmas on steroids.

It started with the Christmas decorations. Slowly Old Thida has become engulfed in a sea of red and green, where each day adds something new. Monday it was red and green fabric draped on the balcony. Today (Tuesday) it was the beautiful stars made by students hung down throughout the courtyard. Last week was the building of the stage, which included painting over the Angry Birds mural on the background pieces with a delightful depiction of Christmas cheer. Added to this performance area was a real live Christmas tree dripping with garland and ornaments.

Trying to teach today was a very difficult task as today was the day for all of the classes to perform on the gleefully decorated stage. Each class was judged by a group of four judges, including one nun, and were vying for a precious spot for Friday’s performance. My Mattayom 2/1 students tried to get me to go up on stage to perform with them, but I was busy with other work as I thought I had to teach at 11:15am, 4th period.

Deciding to use the ladies room before class, I realized I was followed in by my Thai teacher who would be in my next class. I knew this was going to be a conversation about performing. She asked me if class was cancelled, and I told her that I had not heard as much. Then, she proceeded to tell me that out students were finished performing, but were watching. After taking care of business, I walked out of the bathroom to join my class in watching some of the performances. After watching my 2 Mattayom 1 classes perform, my Thai teacher and I decided to cancel class so the students could watch the rest of the performances. Well, there’s another class to make up! It’s worth it though because it was fun to see my students perform what they have been working on for so long. I even got to see some of my Thai teachers performing with them!

I’m not sure what the rest of this week will bring, but I am looking forward to the Christmas celebration on Friday. I’m even looking forward to our very own Super English foreign teacher performance for the Thai teachers Friday evening. Teaching the rest of this week will be a challenge, but that’s all in how you work it!

I stole this picture from Fiona. She was pulled on stage with her class today. Thanks for the pic!

Loy Krathong — by Catherine

Yesterday was Loy Krathong day here in Thailand. Loy Krathong is a festival celebrating the water spirits/goddess. Almost everyone in Thailand celebrates this day by making krathongs to float on the river. I read recently that “loy” means float, and “krathong” means little boat or raft.

In order to celebrate the spirits, Thai people decorate their krathongs with materials ranging from banana leaves, flowers, fruit, sweets, and vegetables. They are usually small, but I saw some very large ones down by the river last night. In order to pay offerings to the spirits, people put little pieces of their hair or fingernails on these boats, light incense and a candles, bless them and then send them on their way. Because I cut dreadlocks off last December, I decided to put one on the krathong Gary made as part of my offering and as a great way to send off yet another dread.

All day the students at Thida were getting ready for the special event. Many of the Mattayom girls made krathongs during the school day and some of them were even in the Thida Loy Krathong beauty pageant. The krathongs that the students made were very ornately decorated and so were the contestants in the pageant. It was a difficult day for teaching, as most of the students were distracted by the events that were happening and that were yet to come.

When I got off work, I headed down to the river. Here, there were more krathongs to be purchased as were many lanterns. These lanterns lit up the sky as people lit some fire underneath them so they could float up like mini-hot air balloons. Some of the lanterns would catch on fire and fall back down from the sky in a dangerous, firey turn of events.  The streets were filled with people who were on their way to the river, buying goods, or going to the concert set up in the middle of the street.

In order to meet Gary, I had to walk past all of these people, including walking by the stage.  This turned into taxing feat as I had to walk single file past the concert goers.  When I finally got passed the stage, I was at the part of the river where there are stairs going down to the river’s edge.  I met Gary and some of his coworkers by some ladies who were selling baby turtles (tao).

After meeting, we walked down the steps to the river.  Gary put some of his hair on the krathong and I put on my dreadlock.  We both blessed the krathong and made wishes before putting it in a metal basket that was attached to a rod, kind of like a metal fishing net.  We lit the incense and candle, which almost immediately went out, and sent our krathong off on its magical journey.  It was a really great night of Thai tradition and I’m happy that I was able to participate.

Thanksgiving #2 — by Catherine

Who knew I would be so lucky to enjoy not only one, but 2 Thanksgivings in Thailand! Unbelievable if you ask me. This second Thanksgiving was done in a very different way than the first. Peter, our boss, was VERY generous in paying for this wonderful meal, and the accompanying wine and scotch whiskey.

Levi and Savannah were put in charge of finding a restaurant to host us for this Thanksgiving. The original restaurant, Ciao Italia, where this event has been held before, had been closed every time they went in to ask for the favor again. Thus, Levi and Savannah went on a hunt for a restaurant that would cook us an American Thanksgiving.

They ended up at Sweet kitchen by the pier, where a trained chef, who went to culinary school in America, agreed to cook us the meal. YAY! He made us stuffing, caramelized yams with pecans, zucchini boats, veal, roasted vegetables, and a Mediterranean salad. Plus, we got to have cheese cake for dessert!

Like I said before, this meal was quite different than the first in that it was made by a real chef, and not people smoking out the kitchen. I was able to get all dolled up for this event and had a wonderful time with my Super co-workers eating, drinking, and being thankful.

Thanksgiving in Thailand — by Catherine

This was not my first Thanksgiving away from home, but it was my first in a completely different country. Luckily, with the recent installment of Central Plaza, Surat has welcomed a somewhat more “Americanized” grocery store: Tops. It was at this wonderful place where some friends and I were able to buy some special ingredients in order to make a Thanksgiving dinner, Thai style.

Last night I ventured into the jungle where Jade and Evan graciously loaned their kitchen to make a bountiful Thanksgiving feast. I brought the very American, from the package Stovetop stuffing, John was in charge of the mashed potatoes, which he whipped up to a creamy Southern style smoothness that only people in the southern states of America know how to do, Jade made mac and cheese (not from a box) and delectable, garlicy acorn squash, and Evan/Jade grilled up some bacon wrapped chicken.

The latter part of the aforementioned meal, the chicken, was a hilarious scene to be watched. Not having lighter fluid, Alyssa and Fiona show up with gasoline. Then, because the coals were lit late, there was a genius idea to blow on them with a fan in order to get the fire going. When the fire was lit, and the coals were hot, the boys decided to put the chicken on. It is my belief that the coals were a bit too hot, because some chicken and/or bacon dripped down onto them and *POOF* out comes the billows upon billows of smoke! Smoked chicken anyone? Fortunately, the kitchen is outside, but we were still smoked out! I don’t eat chicken, but I was told the chicken was still delightful.

During dinner, we all said what we were thankful for, just like if we were in America. This is a tradition I have not really followed at home, but I enjoyed doing it here because it made me appreciate the people I was celebrating with even more. Being able to celebrate one of my favorite holidays with my new friends was definitely a highlight of my time here. Tomorrow, we will be doing Thanksgiving again with the entire Super English family, which I am really looking forward to! Who knew that in Thailand I would get 2 Thanksgivings!