My teaching ‘headquarters’ were right across from the ‘khlong’. A khlong rien is a multipurpose ‘water’way, used for rain water run off and sewage. Most of them are concreted off, to slow down ground water contamination, though in the smaller communities they still resemble natural rivers or large ditches.
The Khlong has a particular smell, is murky, and not entirely appealing to the foreign eye. I would learn that most Thais here love the Klong – they swim in it, fish in it and want to live near it.
The Klongs are viewed the same as waterways anywhere else – desirable real estate – a place where people gather and where the more expensive homes are located.
A THAI RECYCLING ISSUE
Of course that doesn’t mean that they aren’t primarily lined with garbage, they are. Thailand is a bit behind on recycling, and though my neighbourhood had daily garbage pick up, many don’t. Plastic was introduced to Thailand quite late, and that has become a major issue.
You get food AND drinks in plastic bags and unfortunately many are simply discarded where and when they are finished.
One particularly educated Thai explained to me that when he was younger, street food (which is the major way Southern Thais eat – homes often do not have traditional kitchens, and lack refrigeration) came in coconuts and banana leaves.
When one finished their meal, it was common to throw your natural, biodegradable remains wherever you finished. The monsoon season came and washed everything ‘clean’ (or ‘water come, make all clean’, as I was told).
Now that plastic has arrived, the tradition remains but the end result is not the same. Plastic consumer garbage lines and fills most streets, local beaches, khlongs and the ocean. Local governments have been trying to introduce the concept of recycling, but most people I spoke to about it felt like I did in 1990 – ‘Huh?’.
READY TO TEACH
I didn’t have former teacher training, but planned a few lessons with some research on-line and with the help of a few teaching friends.
Though I was ‘ready’, it was less than 24 hours from my arrival that I found myself in a classroom. Sure, I had serious jet-lag with the 36 hours of commuting from Vancouver Canada, to Hat Yai Thailand – but that wasn’t the most nerve wracking part of my experience, I still had to get to work!
A SERIOUS LANGUAGE BARRIER
My hosts felt it was best to throw me into reality, and in hindsight, I can’t really disagree – though I nearly had a nervous breakdown.
I had my Thai host write me map-like directions to school in Thai, thinking that would help me get to and from school. I did not yet have a cell phone, and had zero idea of my bearings. Just my school name and temporary home address written down with one landmark – the 7-11.
Don’t kid yourself, this is NOT your idea of a 7-11. I was excited when I first knew I would be nearby a familiar local convenience, but this 7-11 is nothing like ours in North America. More on that later!
On top of not knowing where I was going, or how to get back, and being in a part of Thailand that generally did not speak English (and not yet speaking Thai), I had to ride on the back of a small motorbike. A Thai motorbike driven by a man that I was (at least) 4 inches taller than, and outweighed by 60-80lbs. For real.
When I arrived to the ‘taxi stand’, I discovered that none of the drivers could read or understand a map, so my attempts at preparing my backup were futile. Fortunately, I had been practicing the name of my school all night in my sleep, and they recognized it when I told them (but how would I get home?!!).
They spoke amongst themselves for quite some time. Their conversation turned to laughter, and before long I realized they were trying to decide which of them was heaviest and tallest – which of them COULD take me.
They knew a few words of English;
‘Ahh! SoOoo FAT farrang (foreigner)!’
‘Sexy, sexy lady!’
O geez. A great way to start my day! I decided then, that this would be one of my future lessons – appropriate use of English words – how to compliment and what NOT to say.
I hopped (wobbled) on, nearly knocking him to the ground. We struggled to stay upright and straight throughout our tour. Neither of us enjoyed it – I would say it was actually quite dangerous. The traffic, the instability, the lack of helmets.
DECIDING TO RIDE
I saw some of my YOUNG students along the way, driving themselves to school. Much too young by Canadian standards to be driving a motorized vehicle – some as young as 10 years old! This inspired me.
If I was going to have to deal with the motorbike ‘taxi fiasco’ on a daily basis (and yes, it went like that EVERY DAY), I was going to have to get my own motorbike and teach myself to drive.
No, I didn’t have a licence in Canada, still don’t. I have a funky eye problem and Canada is very strict about letting people with my issue drive. But if my 10 (+) year old students could drive themselves to school, so could I – dammit!
THANK HEAVEN FOR 7-11
How did I get home that day? The 7-11. There was a taxi stand right outside my school. Another embarrassing group talk (it went the exact same way – this group also used the word ‘jumbo’). It turned out that when speaking, Thais leave out the ’11′ part of ’7-11′, so it took a while to figure that out between us. Once we did (and the largest driver was selected), we still had to find the right 7-11.
Our fourth stop proved fruitful and when he dropped me off (and I tipped him a lot), he said;
‘Tomorrow – same same?’
‘Yes! Same Same!’
I showed him on his watch which time I needed to be picked up in the morning (made a sleeping sign, pointed at the sun and then his watch), and we made a deal that would last a few days. A nice temporary break from the to-and-from school stress.
Unfortunately it wasn’t too long before his co-workers were upset with him for hoarding the foreigner who tips well, and he ‘disappeared’, starting the fiasco all over again.