Friday, September 24, 2004


speaking of little things i appreciate about bangkok... swensen's ice cream parlour has bubble gum ice cream- and it's always there. unlike that tease, baskin-robbins, which claims bubble gum is a summer flavor and only sells it in a select few stores. here, i can have a hit whenever i want- the addiction is becoming pronounced and i'm afraid i may suffer some withdrawal when we return to chicago....


last weekend we went to the Vimanmek Teak Mansion- a palace made entirely of teak. it was quite beautiful, but i think i'm on temple-and-mansion overload lately. there are so many amazing architectural structures here, with golden walls and peaky roofs and intricate carvings... we need a break from that for a while!

this weekend, we're going to Ko Samet, which is a gorgeous little island a few hours from bangkok- i am very excited to travel within thailand for the first time since arriving here in early august. and it'll be very nice to just be on the water- blue ocean, blue skies, and no students or notebooks anywhere in sight :)

taher and i have been talking a lot about the little things we have here in thailand, which we will certainly miss when we get home. and no, i'm not talking about the shopping (although i will definitely miss that!) we just have so much time together here- we have no social commitments, we have no major errands or responsibilities- we just have loads of time to be with each other and wander around and explore our city together. it's like an extended, working honeymoon. on sundays, we get up leisurely and make cinnamon toast. and eat it slowly. and it is VERY good (see, we cook.) we eat dinner together with the TV off. we have time to work out after school and still have the entire evening stretching ahead of us.

of course, i miss home. i miss my parents and family. and friends. but this is a limited-time-only experience and i'm feeling very appreciative of it all.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004


i had a dream two nights ago that sakina was still alive. that she had pulled through and was recovering and had almost regained all of her strength from last year's ordeal. it seemed so real.

we were all together, all the kids- in someone's house, as usual. and she had on these crazy white sneakers with very high soles, and we girls asked her about them. her reply was that they were the newest fashion and of course we took her word as fact, since her sense of fashion was always one that we all trusted. and admired. she looked just like herself, just a bit thinner. and i remember feeling so overwhelmed and grateful that she was okay, and shuddered to think what it would have been like if she wasn't still there, still with us.

and then, of course, i woke up. damn reality. sometimes when i think of her i still really, really miss her and mislead myself into believing that if i try very hard, i can change things and bring her back. which of course is stupid. but, though it seems nonsensical, i feel sometimes that if i just accept the reality of it all, then i'm sort of giving up. even worse, that if i am not still constantly mourning her- if at times i think about her and actually smile instead of burst into tears like i used to- it is a betrayal of some kind.

is it?

Friday, September 17, 2004

that darn 7A

at this school, boys and girls are in separate classes. i teach 5th grade girls, 6th grade girls, 6th grade boys, and 7th grade boys. my 5th and 6th graders are a pleasure to teach because, for the most part, they seem like they actually want to be in school and learn. they listen, they behave, and a lot gets done. my seventh grade boys, however, are a different story entirely. i have the class that other teachers grimace at the mention of. the infamous 7A.

this class is made up of 35 7th grade boys. most of the classes at the school are 25 students. this is the largest class in the school by far, and has a huge number of weak students. the product of this formula is a wildy rowdy, jaded-beyond-discipline group of boys. small wonder that the school would dump this unpopular class on the new teacher.

i am shorter than half the boys, and the youngest teacher they have. the first day, i knew that this class would be a challenge, and so i went in there determined to exert my authority without resorting to the methods that everyone else uses. the other teachers are middle-aged indians who simply shout and even hit the students. this is utterly stupid- the teacher ends up getting very worked up, while the students, used to this kind of punishment, seem more amused than frightened.

i am, of course, not willing to hit anyone- i think hitting a child is wrong and will never resort to that. so i have had to devise my own system in this class. i am quite proud of the way i have handled them- the first day, i was very intimidated, but i went in there and acted stern and bored. i said some funny things to garner their attention, and then kept it by making it clear that anyone who misbehaved would not be shouted at; rather, he would be laughed at. i have become very good at turning any disruptive situation into an embarrassing one for the student; at their age, being laughed at by the teacher and the entire class is much worse than being yelled at (which makes them seem cool while the teacher gets hot) or even beaten (which is mere weakness on the part of the teacher).

i actually have fun in this class now- they are very careful not to do anything that i can use as "material" for a good laugh, and they behave better for me than they do for their other teachers. i know i am a bit unorthodox, but they learn more with me than they would if i spent half the period shouting. and best of all the atmosphere in the class is not oppressive and tense- there is a lot of laughter :)

Monday, September 13, 2004

the job

so it's been a month now since we began teaching... i have many of the same impressions from this gig as i did in cairo- that i am growing attached to some of the kids, but at the same time feeling that teaching is not the job for me. i don't have any of the autonomy that i enjoy as a writer- rather, i am constantly on stage and "on", so to speak. at times this is fun- engaging the kids in something thought-provoking, feeling that there is a two-way exchange occurring. but at other times it feels like it's all becoming far too routine, and i feel suffocated by busy-work.

as international schools go, i have been lucky both times i have worked at one. i have had the freedom to explore what teaching methods work for me, and have been allowed to use my own judgement regarding the atmosphere of my classroom. and of course, there are some kids who make the entire experience a personally gratifying one. i have found my "favorites" already- it doesn't take long. it is natural, i am learning, to gravitate towards the kids who are most receptive. this doesn't mean the smartest or cutest- it's not that obvious. rather, some kids seem to have a spark- some element that i am picking up on and relating to.

i am sure, however, that different teachers would say that they related with different kids- it's much like making friends. the people you like best are not necessarily my type. but i know who i like.

there is shrutika in grade 5- she isn't the smartest in the class, nor the sauciest, but she is the most fun. she has a sense of humor and it's a lot like mine- we find ourselves laughing at the same things. and she is very frank about the politics of her class- if i need to know where a dispute lies, or what someone was really fighting about, i ask her.

in the same class is vishakha- a complete tattletale (only encouraged by the fact that she is class monitor). she loves to tell on everyone- but for some reason, coming from her, it's not wholly annoying. of course i roll my eyes at her more than anyone, but i can depend on her to take something up to the teacher's lounge or give someone a message- i can also depend on her to understand the material well enough to be finished with it first, and to volunteer to help her neighbor with the tougher exercises. she has to recite a poem by john keats next month, and as to the meaning of the poem, she is totally stumped. it's one of the few times i have seen her faced with material she doesn't understand. i think she finds it refreshing.

in class 6 there is ngoc. possibly the smartest student i have, in grades 5, 6 and 7. she is one of the only students at the school who is interested in knowledge for its own sake- rather than in memorizing the right answer and regurgitating it on the exam. if something doesn't make sense to her, she doesn't seem to care about the answer i want; it is the principle that she wants me to explain to her. she takes me by surprise often. she corrects her classmates' grammar (thank goodness- i could use a few more helpers in that area), she asks questions bred from a geniunely inquisitive mind, and i can count on her hand shooting into the air whenever i ask a really tough question. if all of my students were like ngoc, i would never complain. (actually, of course i would, since it is everyone's JOB to complain about their jobs)- but my days would be idyllic.

i teach boys too- some of them are even smart- but i have to end this post before it gets much longer.

as always, stay tuned!

Monday, September 06, 2004

emerald buddha, ancient city

so far, we have been going out and relaxing on weekdays, after we get home from school and work out- and saving our major exploring for the weekend. the weekdays are nice- we go out leisurely, wander around... we are expatriates, doing some shopping, browsing the used bookstores, getting a foot massage, buying groceries, watching a movie.

but on weekends, we are camera-touting tourists. it's fun, on weekends, to shed responsibility, forget that we have jobs, sleep past 6 am for a change, put on sunglasses and comfortable shoes, and set out for a glimpse of the tourist's bangkok. to see the attractions and devote entire days to scrutinizing maps and posing in front of temples.

last weekend, we trekked out to the grand palace. we took the water-route to get there, hopping off the skytrain at the end of the line and then taking the river-taxi. this in itself was fun. the palace itself was incredible. it is a complex, with several buildings and temples within the walls. one of these is Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. this is a huge temple, ornate and gilded on the outside, covered in intricate murals on the inside. it's beautiful. and the main focal point inside is the buddha himself. he sits very high up, on a seat near the ceiling- this draws your eye to contemplate the murals more closely, as your attention is diverted upward. and the buddha himself- shining, pure jade, wearing a gold outfit, he is inspiring to look at. the force of the experience is made all the more incredible by the fact that the buddha himself is only two feet tall! he's small but very powerful. there are as many thais praying as there are westerners gawking, so the temple is very quiet. peaceful, as a place of worship should be.

buddhas, in general, abound in bangkok- i see one every time we go out. some are gold, some are brown, some are large, some are small. before coming here, i had never seen a standing buddha, but here i have seen dozens. i had never seen a slender buddha either- here they are common. i like seeing them everywhere- they destroy the stereotype i once had, of the chubby, smiling, cross-legged buddha. here they are not placed commonly, but rather revered and usually surrounded by offerings of food or incense. i don't worship them, but i do at least respect them more for the atmosphere they can create here.

anyway. this weekend we went to another "highlight" of bangkok- Muang Boran, or the ancient city. this place is quite a find- it's breezy and secluded and lush. we spent hours here without realizing it. basically, the ancient city is 80 hectares of countryside, shaped like the country of thailand. within, the monuments of thailand are placed accordingly so that muang boran is, in effect, a miniature thailand. it was fun- we toured it by tram, and the guide kept saying "this is chiang mai" or "this is the south of thailand"- it was fun, traversing the country in minutes! there were temples galore, as well as massive bansai trees and lion statues and lakes and dragon fountains. it was really amazing, actually, that all of the 109 structures/monuments were built as downscaled but exact replicas. there was even a man-made mountain! i was enthralled. and the detail is almost more awe-inspiring than the huge structures; the tiny, intricate carvings that you have to lean closer to even see- so much care went into these replicas that i could only imagine how beautiful the originals must be...

perhaps we'll be lucky enough to see them in person soon :)