Dear Lads,

[ Email letter written 25-8-19 ]

This finds me having dosed myself with real Thai coffee, and thus full of piss and vinegar, as somebody a generation older than me used to say.

The stuff is strong, and is not fit for women and children, Dave. I like to take it with a teaspoon of real NZ butter, which makes it seem less acidic. Being full of piss and vinegar is the perfect time to run off at the mouth. The downside is that there may come with that a touch of bombast.

I travel about 10 minutes by scooter to the cafe, which doesn’t open til 7 am. I’m not yet organised enough to visit weekdays, where I need to leave the apartment by about 7.40 am to clock in ( fingerprint ) by 8am. So it’s a weekend thing. I’m establishing a little rapport with the co-owner, a guy ( probably ) in his 30s. Learning scraps of Thai that way. Also a bunch of older guys meet there weekends at least, and I have a nodding acquaintance with them.

I think I told them I was a ‘tee-CHUR’. That confers a little status socially, but not so in any other realm.

WORK / IMMIGRATION STUFF …possible boredom ahead

I am learning that the Thai immigration system works to let ‘farangs’ ( say it with a Benny Hill ‘L’ ) in, and so spend our money, but make sure we’re  charged for the privilege. On Monday ( tomorrow ) I go with the school admin to the Immigration Dept, where I will pay 5000 baht ( ~250 $NZD ) for a work permit and Visa extension. Those last a little less than a year. Those are also both tied to the school. So that if I resign or am I fired, neither the Visa nor work permit is valid any longer. Ouch.

All of the above is uppermost in my mind recently with the shenanigans going on around contracts ( www.urbanlegend.nz ). It’s a game of chess, and quite mercenary, as I’m finding out. For example, when I had the bike accident, the HOD told me the school would reimburse me for hospital expenses ( 1600 baht , ~ $NZD 80 ). That was June 19. No reimbursement has appeared with my end-of-month pay-check, so I hit him up about it the other day. He first said the school didn’t cover that. I had to remind him of what he had said at the time of the accident. He said he would get back to me the following day. Two days later, he comes back telling me that I need to get directions from elsewhere at the school to take copies of three documents to an outside agency for insurance approval. I.e. making it as difficult and time-consuming as possible for me to claim reimbursement. That’s typical. He also asked me to sign an amended work contract reducing my terms ( by removing an English-language version clause saying I would be reimbursed for Visa expenses ). He tells me what I discover later is an outright lie – that the clause contradicts Thai law. So two examples above where the school HOD has been totally mercenary. All notions of honour are off the table.

So it becomes a question of ‘do they need me more than I need them’? Given my lack of teaching experience, and age ( and hence more difficulty in finding a new position ) it probably behooves me to suck it up, and work out the contract ( til March ). On my side, two foreign teachers have recently left, and a third is about to, leaving their English Dept. looking a little threadbare. Also on my side, the English Dept.’s Thai Computer teacher left Friday, leaving me temporarily holding the ball as the English Dept.’s computer teacher.

The longer-term plan is to see out this contract ( March next year ) , while I save a little, and gird my loins for possible adventures further afield. Maybe Vietnam. The pay is better, the living is ( slightly ) cheaper. But it’s harder to get work with a criminal record, and it’s even hotter. All hearsay and initial research only.

ADDICTIONS

I’m struggling a little with addictions. The 2nd- and 3rd tier ones are cropping up like pimples. The problem is that pimples can become .. boils, welts, and other nasties. Less cryptic? I’ve taken up smoking again ( I know, arrrgghhh ) after giving up e-cigarettes ( having stopped conventional cigs months ago ) on May 1. I started again soon after the bike accident on June 19. Two pinners ( they sell these thin taylors maybe a third of the diameter of a standard cig ) a day. Only after work, night-times. You can guess what happened. It’s now up to 5 pinners / day. And patches. I’m a little freaked that my NZ supply of these latter is about to run out, and I haven’t yet found a source in Thailand. I ran around for an hour yesterday from chemist to chemist on the scent. But no cigar, so to speak.

You might think the extent of that is minor, and it is, maybe. But I can tell the difference in two ways. First, I’m feeling, and looking, a little shittier, especially int mornings. Something which I can ill afford on that last front. And secondly, basic mindfulness has me noticing that my mind is wandering more and more often each day to “mmm, a cigarette would be the thing right about now”. And as you know, that gets harder & harder to distract away from.

Of course, alcohol is the 800-pound gorilla to smoking’s nasty chimpanzee. I’m not even going to entertain letting that Beast out, in case you wondered. I would be back in NZ ( if I made it ) in very short shrift with sorry tales.

Then there’s Old Faithful, the Rottweiler, caffeine. Treat it well, and it can serve you. Treat it badly, and it gets nervous and fritzy. It’ll bite. So far for me it’s a benign companion. As long as I keep a cap on it, and stop well before midday, it behaves.

ABODES

The apartment is working ok for now. I have the electric costs under control, and next month’s bill should be about 80% of last month’s ( 4900 baht, ~ $250 NZD ). I took part in a Thambun ( not sure of the spelling ) last weekend, a Buddhist ceremony. I kind of stumbled into it by sniffing around some free-looking food in the hotel lobby. On asking I was told ‘after 10 a.m.’. I returned then, to find myself invited to join a ceremony involving a posse of marauding local Monks and hotel staff. The Monks can be seen every day of the week wandering the streets barefoot. Their monastery is over the road from the Wiang Walee Hotel ( home ). They wander around exchanging a kind of prayer service for food ‘donations’. You’ll see locals kneeling in front of the Monks. The Monks will be doing their … benedictions, I guess. The locals then donate food. The hotel version works the same way except a little more upmarket. About two dozen of us knelt while the Monks chanted for around half an hour. Then staff ( and me ) bring the food to the Monks, and wait while they eat. When the Monks have finished, it was our turn. It was worth the wait. As you can imagine, Thai food is out of this world. I discovered several things I hadn’t identified before, such as bean-based dessert made of balls with the consistency of … maybe dry sago. I ate three before I reined myself in.

I have a lot to do today, including prep for classes ( 5 different classes ) tomorrow. I’ll also go for a dip in the sea-water at Saeng Chan. The infection in my ankle from the bike accident still hasn’t cleared fully. I’m gambling that sea-water in and of itself is enough of a antidote to the infection to over-ride the minor pollution in the sea-water.

Then little chores like collecting washing ( hotel has a laundary service where they’ll press and iron clothes for ten baht ( 50c ) apiece ).

OK, onward and upwards,

please email / text with latest news from your end(s),

cheers,

D

Swings & Roundabouts

My state of gruntlement with this current teaching caper is fragile.

It’s starting to look like I might have jumped through all the hoops necessary to stay on in the job til March next year. But it’s looking a little more like I’ve won not the Jackpot, but the Booby prize.

Below is a list of the latest in the Office Politics games which dominate my tiny corner of the world lately.

Plus

I feared that with the departure of my Thai co-teacher, Film, that the school might try to load me with extra teaching hours. That hasn’t happened, and they appear to be hard on the heels of a replacement for Film.

Minus

Today I was asked to sign an amended contract. Different from the original terms, of course. The original said I would be reimbursed Visa fees ( so far 3800 ฿ ). The amended contract said not. I didn’t sign.

Plus

Monday I am scheduled to visit the Immigration Office with Her Som-ness, the High Priestess of all things bureaucratic. I will pay 5000 ฿ for Visa and Work Permit.

Minus

This week Film demanded that I schedule exams immediately for students who recently failed. He also told me that he has already entered a pass mark for those who failed. Making these make-up tests a fiasco for the sake of placating fee-paying parents who would not be please that their wee treasures should not be learning computers. Or English.

I asked him about printing them out, a mysterious Byzantium process which requires sign-offs for Africa. He told me to do it myself. Wonderful. When I tried there was almost a shoot-out over access to printing paper.

I discovered that no NES teacher, or Philippine teacher, or Thai teacher, has more classroom hours than I do. Of a total of around 20+ teachers in the English Programme, only 2 others have the same number of contact ( classroom ) hours. All others have significantly ( 16 – 19 hours vs. my 22 ) less.

On a personal note, many of the Thai & Philippine teachers are just plain bad-mannered. It may be that my Western sensibilities about personal spaces is different. But spreading books and computers all over the lunch table, for example, is just bad manners. Desks are for one thing, tables for another, I woulda thought.

So given the fragile state of affairs, it may have been .. impolitic for me not to have buckled and signed the amended contract.

It’s probably a fight I can’t win. Maybe I should just put my head down, say ‘yessir’,’nossir’ and survive until March, when the contract ends.

Or mnaybe I’m just over-thinking the whole game, and the HOD doesn’t give a damn about whether I sign or not.

The balls is in the his court for now.

Mine

pronoun: my, mine

Big Changes in Little Rayong

Tranwit Kittisantaropas. Or ‘Teacher Film’.

The  weasel is well among the chickens with the news that my Thai co-teacher  ‘Film’ , left,  is leaving RayongWit.

And it may be gunning for this particular rooster – me, not him.

It  seems likely that my  teaching workload will now crank up beyond a manageable 22 teaching hours a week classtime * ( schedule ) .

Officially, Film and I are sharing teaching duties, with him in the class alongside me teaching. Unofficially, I teach nearly all my classes alone, and he takes two or three of the younger classes by himself.

Reports from other teachers suggest that the school will want me to fill the extra hours.  Its track record thus far with me suggests that I’m unlikely to be offered more money.

So I’ve been girding my loins. It happens that I updated my CV anyway, and now I’ll be sending it hither and yon. Fore-arming myself against “trouble at mill” if and when it comes to that.

Film – who as with many Thais uses his nickname bestowed at birth, as opposed to ‘Tranwit’ in his case – leaves on August 26 for another teaching job in Chonburi.

I found this out not because he told me but via ‘Som’ ( Her Who Must Be Feared ) late on Friday afternoon. I guess I will soon find out how the school plans to fill his boots.

Pros and Cons

Without knowing that, an upside of Film’s departure is that I no longer have to share a teaching station. All our classes are in the same room ( 7209 ), and the desk is officially Film’s.

I may also escape  being so closely … policed. Although a young guy, Film is totally dedicated to rule-following. He’s 100% by the book .

At a recent gala day, he seriously expected me to be in the classroom ‘supervising’ along with him and his wife while students played video games. No other NES teachers were assigned jobs.

An additional class needed scheduling recently for students to sit exams. Film  expected me to start work at 7am ( i.e. be there at 6.30 or so ) to accommodate students. OK, I said, but that will mean I leave work an hour earlier than the regular 8am – 4.30 timetable. No dice.

If there is more than one way of doing something, he’ll always plump for the most time-consuming method. The one which involves time-consuming or  mind-numbing repetition, rather than  an alternative using better technology.

Another area of difficulty is that Film’s English is not as good as some other Thai teachers. It’s way better than my Thai, but I’m not employed as a Thai speaker.

A downside is I’ll miss out on his teaching experience. Two or three times, he has suggested good lesson plans when I’ve been stuck. A handful of times in the early days, he rescued me when I’d exhausted my lesson material.

He also has a good sense of when students are struggling, and occasionally  summarises a lesson in Thai.

He is well liked in the office. He’ll be missed, but more by some than others. Ahem.

*

That’s actual contact time, in the classroom. I’m doing at least 50 hours a week. That includes 40 hours where I’m obliged to be at at the school. Then at least another 10 hours a week outside school hours in class preparation, and marking assignments.

Teacher : Registered

Apparently this document means I’m now a registered teacher. In Thailand.

I think this is the second-to-last hoop I have to jump through in the Byzantine Thai bureaucracy.

The last isn’t so much bureaucracy as it is the school giving itself, and its students, an ‘out’.  In case a teacher suddenly begins sniffing glue in the classroom.for example.

That is the student review, due after three months. I passed the 3-month mark yesterday, as did most other NES teachers who began this term.

I’m not sure how much of a formality this is. I have heard dark whisperings about somebody who failed the student review, but that’s only hearsay.

As with many other goings-on at the school, one does one’s best with the murky information forthcoming, and keeps one’s head down.

It seems to be working thus far.

 

What I love about Thailand – Part 3

The Coffee

Served black, in all its full-strength, muddy, bitter glory. Ideally topped up with a dollop of creamy New Zealand butter.

ALL cafe brewed at, of all places, the 7-11. The sh*t.

And what would you know but the sap is rising and all ( ok, many ) things seem possible on  a toasty South-East Asian morning.

Last month I was riding 5 minutes to a local eatery, and fidgeting while the Help took its sweet time brewing up the elixir. One morning, I finally decided that 20 minutes’ wait was beyond the pale. There had to be a better way.

And there was. My brother in NZ, a bit of an aficianado, gave me some advice about finding the Good Beans, and even found a local shop which ground their own beans. Imported no less from Myanmar, and Chiang Mai, and cheap at about 150 ฿ . That worked.

Coffee maker

But my equipment, I suspect, was letting me down. A cheapo coffee maker from Tesco Lotus ( ‘low-TAR’ in the local lingo ), which does the trick, but doesn’t quite have the same kick. Or the same taste.

 

After a few words with the other NES teachers, one suggested the 7-11s, many of which contain an ALLCafe. They brew surprisingly good coffee, only 25฿, and delivered fast and hot. See above.

So the weekday morning routine is now one with the Good Beans, and the shoddy coffee-maker, above, and one from the 7-11, further above.

On a weekend, I’ll travel to a locally-owned and run cafe ( mother and son I assume ) where they make spectacular coffee. As no doubt do many cafes around town.

Trouble is, none of them open til 7 am, which is way past twitching time.

 

 

Beer & Skittles – sometimes

Monday at work was such a day.

The school hosted something they called an ‘Expo’, bascially a free-for-all where students played computer games, peddled merchandise, or just danced. As below.

Details of the reason and thinking behind the whole caper are sketchy, because – as I’m learning is standard practice – we get told sod-all.

We did, however, have a Monday’s worth of no lessons, so I wasn’t making a fuss.

My Thai co-teacher, however, was. He seems to have made it his mission in life to create as much work as possible for me. In line with that, he insisted I ‘supervise’ a roomful of students playing video games. He and his wife ( also a teacher ) were in the room emjoying a cosy chat. The rest of the Foreign English teachers were in the teachers’ office doing their own thing.

I followed suit.

I Got The Power

After three months here, I’ve finally got a loose grasp on a major drain on the pocket – power costs.

It’s finally dawned on me – years after everyone else – that running air-conditioning overnight, and during most of the day, is sky-rocketing expenses.

In my defence, it’s set up as a rort, because apartment owners are making a killing by retailing electricity at a profit. So they’re hardly likely to have a word on the ear of power-hogging tenants.

The wholesale rate, which they pay the Government, is 3 baht / unit. They then typically retail it at 5 – 8 baht / unit. At a typical 300 – 500 units / month, that’s anywhere from ฿600 ( baht ) –  ฿2500  for whistling dixie.

Being a little slow to catch on, I’ve spent around ฿8,500  per month in the last two apartments. The first, ฿5500 + ฿3000 in power, and the second, ฿5000 + ฿3500 in power. It seemed there was no escape.

But on grilling a fellow NES teacher ( Scott, a quiet but wily Californian ), he pointed out the obvious – it’s the air-conditioning, you marnis.

Experiments have proven this hypothesis – below is an example of the Monkey Brain taking over shows power usage here at the Wiang Walee. Enlightenment happened on July 29.

Power Usage at the Wiang Walee

Dates Usage Av. usage/day ฿ / month
July 17 – July 29 400 units 33 ฿5000
July 30 – Aug 1 50 units 17 ฿2500
Aug 1 – Aug 2 19 units 19 ฿2850
Aug 2 – Aug 3 8 units 8 ฿1200
Aug 3 – Aug 4 14 units 14 ฿2100

How have I coped with this given the 30+°C heat? I’ve started wearing damp t-shirts and neckerchiefs inside, and I’ve turned the air-conditioning off when I’m out, and during the day.

It’s still too hot to sleep without the air-conditioner. But I’m finding ( from reading, and since confirmed ) that the unit set for about 26° cools enough, and uses way less power.

Leaving Home

An awful eating out experience last night reminded me what not do in Thailand.

That would be to travel to a country offering a smorgasbord of what has to be among the best cuisine in the world – and eat pizza. And ice cream.

That’s what happened when I took a diet regime ( “listen to the Sisson” ) swerve for the sake of a social outing with some fellow NES teachers.

I should have seen the writing on the menu when the group agreed to meet at Passione, a major shopping mall in Rayong. It glitters, but it’s not gold. The lights are over-powering , and most of it is so .. uniform that dithery middle-aged guys are apt to lose themselves. On the upside, there are some stalls cooking real food, served up hot, and delicious, so all was not lost.

We agreed to decide on an eatery when we got there, but when I arrived ( on time ), the rest were all parked up at a small franchise pizzeria. Ugh. But I decided to ditch the food zealotry, and enjoy the social occasion and indulge.

We all ordered, er, pizza. OK. I got an allsorts bacon topping, thin crust. It was OK ( bland, no spices ), but didn’t come anywhere near satisfying. Everyone else either has their appetites better trained, or ate in advance, because it seemed to do them.

Not so bad, but when it was time to fix up the bill, taking five separate paymnent was totally beyond the staff, or the system, or both. Result – a 20-minute drama. Unbelievable.

The others trundled off to a dessert shop to eat ice-cream. I made my excuses, and went searching for some real food – I ate – a fatty pork sausage, a pork chop, finished off with cocoa and coconut cream with cinnamon and Goji berries. Mmmm.

I paid 220 baht for a pizza which didn’t satisfy. I then paid only 70 baht for the sausage and chop, and maybe 20 baht for the cocoa. If I could have found a nearby market in my frenzy, I could have had a good, and filling, meal for 60 baht. With perfectly good outdoor seating.

Aside from all that, it’s beyond me why one would travel to Thailand to eat crap American-style food. It’s expensive, in unpleasant surroundings, and dull or unpalatable.

OK, some things haven’t changed for me in this new residence. I watch similar videos, for example.

But when it comes to a really easily accessible part of the Thai culture – the food – it’s almost criminal to let that chance pass by.

Cruise Control

Easy days here right now, and none too soon.

The stress of setting and then supervising exams is over. I’m officially at work, but there’s nothing I have to do today.

Time to futz about with my new install of the Linux mint operating system on the laptop. Hydrating. Warming myself. And suchlike.

Exams – Setting

Setting exams was a drama. I’d earlier set tests for some classes, so assumed it was just rinse and repeat, with extras.

Wrong. After the first drafts, my Thai co-teacher tells me the fonts, format, and nearly everything else is wrong. I’m given a list of requirements.

Take two. I rewrite, to be told that the HOD has vetoed the exams for reasons which remain fuzzy.

I’m due for an in-class assessment by the HOD, so I assume I’ll be able to clarify things then. But when the HOD doesnt show for the scheduled class, I start job-hunting as a backup.

TWO days after I send a detailed explanation of events, and basically asking ‘what now?’, my Thai teacher tells me my exams have now been approved.

Apparently, there were machinations in a department meeting. It’s all very mysterious.

But that decision gives me the impression I’m a truckload more secure in the job than I been.

So my exams will be held in my scheduled class times ( easy work ), as compared with …

Exams – Supervising

The past three days have been spent cooped up like chickens watching students sit other exams.

Two days of four-hours a day in a room with no air-conditioning, swilling water to try to compensate. One day of the same with air-conditioning.

Light, tunnel

Today, I’ve done my time supervising, and get my rationed relief.

Tomorrow is a day of supervising my exams with my regular classes. The same for several days next week.

And Monday is a holiday. It’s the King’s birthday.

Long live the King.

 

 

 

 

What I love about Thailand – Part 2

Scootering

There’s nothing like the freedom of meandering along on a scooter on a warm summer’s day.

And here, rain or shine or otherwise, it’s always a warm summer’s day.

Which means  going out for a quick jaunt is my idea of  an ideal Time Out. Beaches, buildings, parks, shopping, endless food stalls, all within 15 minutes – a man can easily make a pig of himself.

I have learned something from my recent troubles – I’m a lot more … sedate than I used to be.  I no longer try to load all my Thai possessions onto the scooter.

Nonetheless, I’ll nearly always ride helmet-less, avoiding the main roads, where the police lurk with ticket-books in hand. Everywhere else, nearly everyone goes for comfort over safety,  and shuns helmets.

The ‘controlled’ intersections are also nearly all on the main roads, of course, so everywhere else it’s every man, wife, and child for themselves. Sometimes all three on the same scooter.

Scooters are universal here – from early teens to the elderly, it’s the most common form of transport.  As such, it’s very loosely policed.

And gas is ridiculously cheap – a 100 baht tank refill will fuel me for around 60 km, or around a week of pottering about.

That pottering includes the 5-minute trip from home to work, the 5-minute trip to the nearest Food Mile, a 10-minute trip to a ‘supermarket’, or the same to big fresh produce markets ( I’ve found three so far, no doubt there are many more ).

Cheap, quick(ish), convenient – you gotta love a scooter.