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What a long strange trip it's been...
Sunday, August 3 2008

     I just got back from a 12 hour trip into Burma, or Myanmar if you acknowledge the new military regime. I went to immigration on Friday to get a 10 day extension and they said they only do 7 days. I asked what I should do and he said "Do a visa run to Ranong". Awesome. I try to do it the right way and I'm told to do it the roundabout look-the-other-way way. It was a long hellish trip and I will write more about it later. Now I have to write the 4th (and last) CELTA written assignment and then get some sleep.

 

El Fin.
Saturday, August 23 2008

     I'm back in Japan and 98% finished with everything. As you can see I got a little busy around August 4th and couldn't make anymore updates. I'll try to make a huge update soon.

 

Back to Normal.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008

             I went to the hospital today for my monthly check up and it was surprisingly good. My cholesterol was normal as was my blood fat. Only a few things were slightly high so he took me off the cholesterol medicine and now I just have the blood fat and high blood pressure meds. That surprised me since I didn’t eat as well as I had planned in Thailand. I did eat a lot of light Thai food like pad Thai, but the beer was only $2 for a huge bottle and it really hit the spot after a long day of teaching, learning, writing reports, and listening to people constantly talk about the “tolerable American accent”.

 Some things I learned while in Thailand:

1) It seems like no one is really in charge there. People can set up shop most anywhere they want. In the street, on the sidewalk, on a cart rolling down the road and no one seems to say no. There are lines painted in the road, but they don’t mean anything and no one gets mad when people ignore them and drive all over the place. It’s perfectly ok to gouge foreigners with high prices and not seen as racist or discrimination at all. Virtually anyone can set up a dive shop/trinket store/internet café/bar/or crappy hostel on Koh Phi Phi and there are no minimal standards.

2) Brits have some desperate need to constantly point how annoying the American accent is. I heard no less than 50 people talking about it and some were talking full volume on a ferry from Koh Phi Phi. One guy was talking to another girl saying “so have you run into many Americans on this trip? Did you back up and run into them again? I find them to be quite ignorant and their accent is annoying.” My GOD that is so rude. I’m not picking on Brits and I actually like their accent. It was not until this trip to Thailand that I heard so many, specifically British people, talking about how annoying the American accent is. I could never imagine being that rude. There are accents I like more than others, but I would never openly and unprovoked-ly start bashing someone’s country and way of speaking. The funniest part was that these people were mostly from the London area where they say Mava instead of Mother. How can someone say MY accent is bad when they don’t even pronounce T’s. It’s one thing to bash our foreign policy, I might join in that, but to stand on a boat and start talking loud so other people can hear is just rude. I don’t fancy that at all.

3) Everyone in Thailand, except for maybe the post office, will happily screw you out of a few Baht if you are non-Thai, especially American. Even the hotels that I stayed in charged way too much for the taxi ride to/from the airport. One hotel in Sangklaburi charged us 100 Baht more for the same room as a Thai family. We both got a triple, but they paid 200 Baht and we paid 300 Baht. No big deal since it was only $3 more, but perhaps if I spoke Thai I could have got the discount. I can’t understand much Thai, but I do know numbers.

4) The CELTA course, even though it allows people from all over the world, heavily favors British-European-Indian and anyone else that speaks Queen’s English. There were several small comments and some apologies about how the phonemic chart is based on pure Cambridge English and the other accents (even though several vary deeply in England) were just out of luck and would have to conform to the “standard”.

5) The CELTA standard has nothing to do with how well the lesson goes over all, but specifically how well the candidate follows a list of things. One Polish girl who more or less double talked and mumbled quite a bit, got several “above the standard” even when I thought the lessons were awful. “Ok, what we are going to do now is opening our books to page 49 and look at the part at the top of the page, ok are we opening the books, yes, ok, well”. Then she would make several blatantly wrong statements and still got either to the standard or above the standard. “Threat. It is a verb. You threat someone. ‘Are you threat me?’ OK now write it down”. That’s WRONG. It’s THREATEN. How can you take a class from someone who makes basic mistakes in a language. In NO other language is that acceptable. If I were to teach Japanese and make these basic mistakes people would walk out and say I’m not qualified to teach, but anyone who can say HELLO can teach English.

             The CELTA course was actually very good on the verge of great. I can’t say it was great, because there were several things that annoyed me (as mentioned above). I know I am almost always annoyed, but these things seemed pointless. First, there was a near-daily reminder of how great British English was, specifically Cambridge English. Also, we couldn’t really offer any counter arguments to any of the methodologies presented because “there is research, people with master’s degrees and doctorates have done research on this. Are you arguing with their research? I mean there has already been research done.” Yea I get that, but I don’t think teaching English is black and white. I think different ways work in different situations.

             Then we had to do teaching practice which was expected. One thing that was not expected was the set of “observation tasks” that we had to do while other candidates were teaching. I wanted to observe them and document their styles as well as good and bad points, but we had these tasks to do that reeked of busywork. They would be something like “what kind of instructions does the teacher give and how do the students respond? How do you feel about this?” All that self discovery was mega-annoying since I don’t want to self discovery my way through a $1,600 course. Everything we did had some SD in it and I just don’t learn well that way. My handouts all have the wrong answers I self discovered marked out and then correct ones written in. Sometimes the correct ones weren’t written in since we didn’t SD them.

             Then one of the 6 quit and we had to fill his teaching slot. I thought it would be really crazy if the tutors taught there so we could actually see them DO what they were teaching. But that was a big NOT GONNA HAPPEN. We had to fill the times and plan lessons on top of our already slammed workload. I’m not mad at the guy for quitting, he took the course on a whim and didn’t even need it. I’m mad that we never saw the tutors teach and several other course around the world offer that. I can’t imagine taking guitar lessons and never once seeing the guitar teacher play guitar. That would make me wonder…

             Everyday I would get up around 6-630 and either eat breakfast at the hotel’s buffet, or go to the gym I joined and work out (all of three times) or work on the day’s lesson plan or one of the 4 semi-busywork reports. The reports weren’t entirely busywork, I could see their purpose and how they helped weed out some people, but we were trying to focus on the course and teaching and all the input and then we had these 4 distractions that were really annoying. I passed 3 with resubmits and 1 with first pass. I finally got the hang of them at the end. The directions tell you exactly what you have to do. It will say something like “write about A and be sure you mention B, C, and D.” Then in the paper you need to be able to say “here is where I talk about A, and here is where I mention B, C, and D.” If you can’t do that you get a resubmit where they tell you to go back and do that. Also you need about 3 references from some books, preferably books written by Harmer, Scrivner, Thornbury, or some of the other names mentioned in the “but they did the research” conversations. Even if the references aren’t really needed or are very loose, just mention them correctly. I used the SLA style, though some British (by British I mean “correct”) version of documenting references would be better. Preferably anything that the Holy Cambridge University says is best.

             Sorry that was a tangent. Anyway, I would wake up around 6-630 and do stuff and then leave around 8-830 depending on if I taught or had some paper due. Every morning I went across the street a bit and bought 1 or 2 ice coffees from some shop. I learned how to say it as well as how much it costs. I would give the second one to either a guy in the class who, hypothetically, would buy one for me on other days or I would give it to the CELTA assistant downstairs who was a cute 20-something girl. She might have been late 20s. Actually all the girls that worked in the office were rather cute. Tangent again, sorry. The input class would start at 9am and go until 10:30 when we had a break. Then the second class would go until 12:30 and then we had lunch until 2. You think that’s a long time, but we were wishing for 2 hour lunches since we had to eat and prepare some lesson at the same time. It was hectic and busy, but we managed.

             Then at 2 the students came. The school was a private English school and these students were people off the street who wanted free English lessons. They signed up and took a test and were placed in the class and told we were learning to be teachers so we might generally suck. They were great students and really forgiving. They had done this several times before and knew what we wanted them to do even when were didn’t explain it well. They almost never asked questions and were very polite. Most were Thai, but we had a Korean guy, Japanese girl, and some Russian guys at one point. The Russians argued with an Indian teacher who hadn’t fully prepared his lesson. It was humorous. The class ended at 4 and then we had a 30 minute break followed by a feedback session. Here we gave our feedback, both positive and negative, to our peers and then the tutor chimed in and gave his “research based expert” feedback. This finished around 6 where we then left (or stayed to prepare) and had dinner and then prepared for the next day.

             I stayed in most of the time and studied or prepared. A few nights I would hang out at the restaurant bar downstairs or another cheap restaurant nearby. There were several nice places in Phuket town. There was a British guy that stayed in the same hotel as me and we hung out some, but he was married to a tutor of another CELTA course on Phuket and she would visit occasionally. There was an Indian guy who never left his room since everything he cared about, e.g. his family, was back in India. There was a Polish girl who had a boyfriend staying with her and they did something. The other American went to some bar in town every single night to the point it was comical. Once he agreed to go to the mall with me to eat at Sizzler and possibly see a movie. We ate and then he said he really had to get back to town since some guy he knew was going to jam with him. Everyone he met became “this buddy of mine”. I went with him to the bar where he played some grateful dead only to me in the bar. I got bored and left early.

             When I arrived in Thailand on July 11th I got a 28 day visa. I don’t know why it wasn’t a 30 day, because I needed to stay 37 days to catch my outgoing flight. I asked about getting an extension and everyone told me it was so easy. I just need to go to immigration and get some paperwork. When I got there, they were semi-rude and told me they would only give me a 7 day extension even though my flight was 2 days later. The immigration guy actually told me to do a visa run into Burma which would give me 30 days and cost less than the legitimate 7-day extension. So I went to a travel agent and paid 1,800 Baht (just less than $60 USD) and did a visa run.

 http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Thailand/South/Ranong/blog-48440.html

            At 6:30am on the next Sunday a minivan picked me up at my hotel. Then it met with a slightly (only slightly) bigger and nicer one and we started on our way. We drove 6 hours to Ranong, Thailand and I was cramped in the back of the minivan. There was plenty of space up front, but some young rude Euro-punks were taking up all the nicer seats. Kids today, oh! Finally we get to the pier and go through departure immigration. Then we board a wooden boat where once again the Euro-punks took the nicer seats. We rode the boat for about 45 minutes to Victoria’s Point, Burma and were surrounded by touts when we arrived at the pier. The travel agency took care of all the bribes and paperwork which was the only good thing about the trip. Burma was so poor and dirty, I could barely stand being on the pier much less staying overnight or walking around. It reminded me of a prison. Finally we got out in and out stamp of Burma (technically Myanmar) and re-boarded the boat. Some people, including the woman that brought her 2 month old baby, tried to change the seats, but the Euro-#$%&s made sure they got their proper seats. Then we rode back for about 20 minutes where we stopped at some floating customs checkpoint and they went through our bags. Then we started back and it started to rain and the Euro-jerks got soaked because, for some strange reason, no one else would slide down or make room for them in the covered part. It was the darnedest thing.

             Back in Phuket town, I was right by the beach, well 20 minutes away, but I only made it once. Another teacher from Japan was touring Thailand at the same time and we hung out a bit. She had ridden buses all around to various beaches, but I finally convinced her to rent a moped and she loved it. Then the course seemed to finish on Thursday instead of Friday so I rented one on Friday and we rode all around the island. If you ever go to Phuket for a few days, you must rent a moped since it’s so cheap and so easy to get around. She rented the cheapest possible which was a semi-crappy manual, whereas I paid $3 more and rented a nicer one which was a fancy automatic. She is 25 and much more willing to save a little money by sacrificing comfort. I am 36 and far less willing. I think I was when I was 25, but now I can’t do stuff like that.

             So then the course is over and we have a cheesy farewell party at some place. It was semi nice, but I was really sun-burnt and feeling bad in general. Plus I was getting annoyed at certain repeated behaviors from certain people and was generally tired of that life. Then on Saturday we checked out and got on a ferry to Koh Phi Phi which was over an hour away. She wanted to stay in some bamboo huts since they were the cheapest possible accommodation on the island, but I wanted (and was willing to pay) for something much nicer. It was still only $24 a night, but much nicer than her $12 hut idea with a shower and bathroom about 50 feet away. I thought the place was brand new and we decided it had just been rebuilt after the 2004 tsunami. The highest point of the populated area of the island was about 10 feet which means that whole area would have been demolished by the tsunami.

             When we first got there we thought we were going to meet the other girl at some bar. For some reason there was one specific bar that we had to meet at because…..drumroll please…..it was listed in the Lonely Planet as a cool place. The sacred Lonely Planet gave it’s approval, but failed to mention it was a 20 minute walk nearly around the island. When I asked where we should stay (before we left) everything was “well the Lonely Planet says….” or “ I can’t find anything on Hostelworld.com”. I kept saying “hmmm, we could try other places that are possibly not suggested by Lonely Planet”, but that suggestion was never heard. It had to be somewhere in LP or on hostelworld.com. Finally we found a place that was not in either. Actually I found the place and said “I don’t care, I am booking it now, I don’t care about what one book says.” I’m not really fond of that book mainly because everyone walks around quoting it and flashing it while saying things like “I’m a backpacker. I have been to 20 countries, how many have you been to? Free Tibet! I’ve met so many interesting people. I’m staying in a $2 hotel. I haven’t washed my dreds for 12 weeks. I don’t use deodorant.” The other reason is those books are written by one writer. People are going around quoting one person’s opinion as holy fact. One guy thinks a bar is cool and 5,000 backpackers flock there and drink beer while talking about how cool they are and when their next yoga class is. The saddest thing is that that one writer for South America admitted to plagiarizing several books since he didn’t make enough money to actually travel there.

             We stayed there for two days, though I only wanted to stay overnight. I thought it was going to be a tropical peaceful island, but it was a busy tourist trap just like Khao Sarn Road in Bangkok. I preferred a quiet island without 400 Baht Krabi to Bangkok Speed demon buspeople coming up to me literally every minute trying to sell something useless or overpriced. She stayed an extra day with our other friend from Japan. I left early to go to the orphanage near Burma in Northwest Thailand. I took the 2pm ferry to Krabi where we boarded a direct bus to Bangkok. The bus was a nice double decker with bathroom and it stopped twice. We left Krabi at 4:30pm and made it to Bangkok at 5:50am with a few 30 minute stops. The driver, like all drivers in Thailand, drove the bus like a bat out of hell. There were a few times that I was sure the bus was going to flip over. We were doing about 80 the whole time passing anything that got in our way. It was completely absurd, butBus to Sangklaburi from Bangkok pretty much the standard in Thailand. The only thing that goes slow in Thailand is the train. When I got to Bangkok and got off the bus all the touts were trying to get us to take their taxis. I asked one guy how much to the bus station and he said 500 Baht, I laughed and walked off and he asked how much I would pay. I told him with a metered taxi it would be about 90 baht, but I would pay 200 now. He agreed and we left. I caught the 6:20am bus to Kanchanaburi and then the 8:20am bus to Sangklaburi. I arrived in Sangklaburi around 1pm and had to take a motorbike, with my big bag, in the rain, for 45 minutes to BaanDada.org. It was awful, but I made it.
Photo - Could you possibly have any more lights or horns?

             The next day I picked up Stephanie and Tracy at the bus station. I also fell and hit the bone above my butt and that hurt for 2 weeks. It still hurts slightly, but not like the first day. While at Dada’s we dug rocks up from the river since they are about to build a new kitchen/eating area in a flat area of the land. They are about to outgrow the area they have now since there are over 60 kids and 10+ volunteers of sorts. We ended up leaving a day earlier than planned because Dada had to leave and one girl got sick. It would have been a hassle to leave if Dada wasn’t there with the truck since we’d have to walk a mile down a dirt road, wait a few hours for a taxi truck, and then ride into town with her being sick. Finally we made it back to Bangkok and they debated about how cheap of a place they want to stay in. I went to my usual place and paid $25 for a room that included breakfast. Then I went to the tailor and got a new suit, 5 new shirts (custom made long sleeve) and two pairs of pants for less than $300. The savings there is that they are all custom made and fit well. Then I had tons of massages, bought too many gifts to bring back, and ate at Burger King about 4 times in a row.

             I was worried about catching the direct bus home which would only work if the plane was on time and I made it through the airport in less than an hour. It was and I did and I ended up having an extra 45 minutes to spare. Then the bus back took 3.5 hours rather than 5 as expected so I had a little time to chill when I made it home. That was Monday, then Tuesday I went straight into running the  Summer English Camp that lasted 4 days. I had a small break on the weekend, but yesterday was an opening ceremony here and then a contract ceremony at the board of education and then meeting the mayor.

             The other big news, apart from my blood tests being good, is that I go to another JHS once a week from September. It’s the one that’s nearby called Ose (oh say). It has about 3 times as many kids as Konan, but it’s still a small school. It’s about a 20 minute drive from here and I plan to go to the gym on days that I go to Ose since I will be that much closer. I guess I will continue talking to that lady in English though it’s a bit annoying with her husband there because he talks to me in Japanese for 30 minutes of the hour and there’s not much English. I can’t really say “can he NOT be here?” so I don’t know how to handle it.

             I’m setting some realistic goals for the fall. 1) I want to hit the gym hardcore this time and actually get down to 100 kilos (220 pounds). 2) I want to pay off my credit card and send $2,500 to my school loan. 3) I want to get considerably better at Japanese. That’s not really a quantifiable goal, but I plan to study more regularly and intensely. 4) I want to submit a sci-fi short story for publication to some magazine. 5) I want to travel to a few new places in Japan even if I have to go alone. Those are all realistic and doable. I will make this happen.

Best unintentional line of the trip:

You put that on and I'll put this between my legs.

It was referring to a back pack and another bag with me driving a moped to the bus station.

 

FIRE! FIRE!
Wednesday, August 27, 2008

            We had the standard fire drill today that we always have around this time. It’s one of my first memories of this school since it was the second or third day when I first got here. I forgot to bring my camera and then remembered I have already taken dozens of photos and they are all pretty boring.

            The one thing I did notice that I hadn’t before was how much ceremonial pomp there is related to putting out a fire. When the firemen would line up they would march into position and salute the captain and then march back out. For one thing where they were trying to put out a fire they set as an example, the fire went out on its own because there was so much ceremonial stuff. The trucks pulled up, people got out and saluted others, particular people had particular jobs, rather than yelling commands or using hand signals people would run around and tell each other (after bowing and greeting each other).

            The one event that nearly drove me crazy was when everyone lined up to put out a fire the old fashioned way. First they spent 10 minutes throwing water around the fire so it would not ignite the dirt when bits fell down. Then as the fired raged, they finally started hitting the fire with the water. They did that about 10 times and then left. Then volunteer people pulled out a hose and sprayed water. But one person pulled out part of the hose and stood there posed while another person pulled out the extension and then connected them. When it was time to start one person RAN to the other person and greeted/bowed/saluted and then told her to start the pump. When it was time to stop the pump, rather than just waving or making an X with her arms, the person ran all the way to the pump lady and greeted/bowed/saluted and then told her to stop the pump. It was by far the most inefficient way of doing something. I actually want to see Japanese firemen put out a fire to see if they waste time with all the ceremony (which wouldn’t surprise me) or if that was just for show (which is possible).

            I’m not whining about this for the sake of whining. I do like Japan and I really want to understand why they do this and how a society can function illogically like this. By writing this out sometimes people will use the comment link above to tell me something related to it. Or when I write it out I slow down my thoughts and think through it logically and figure something out on my own. It’s so hard to understand how a society can function that is based on people relationships and not logic.

 

5th.
Thursday, August 28, 2008

             One of my speech contest girls won 5th place. Yay!

             For lunch at the speech contest some of us went to sushi. Right as we were paying it started absolutely pouring down rain. I ran across the parking lot and bought some $1 umbrellas and came back. I was absolutely drenched. Then we walked back and got even wetter. Most of me dried, but my shoes were soaked the whole way home. We stopped at my apartment so I could change into some dry socks and shoes. Then we went back to school for the

 

New School.
Friday, August 29, 2008

             I go to a new school today. I still go to Konan 4 days a week, but once a week I'll go to Ose (Oh say) since it is small and nearby. I'll post a "how was it update" later.

             Ose was great and the kids are great.  even met some kids that were really into English and somewhat advanced. I'm going there on Wednesday of next week and then every Thursday, which is ideal since I work out in Koriyama on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So I should leave Ose around 4:15 (unless there is something after school) and get to workout around 4:30 and be able to get back home before I did in the past. Plus there are 6 periods on T-Th so the last class lets out around 3:40 and I would only have to wait a little bit. I had to wait nearly 2 hours to leave today since there were only 5 classes. I read some chapters from my Jeffery Deaver short stories book.

           After Ose the NTs had a welcome party at Bamboon. I have a point card there and I forgot since I made such a big deal about remembering it. Also I don't have a wallet since I washed it recently with some pants and it has been drying ever since. The weather has been overcast and rainy for weeks now and nothing dries. Anyway, the party was good and someone from the BoE even came by. I drove home and didn't attend the second party since I didn't prepare a place to stay in town. Over the weekend I am going to clean the apartment and try to get rid of the mildew in some areas.

 

Closing.
Saturday, August 30, 2008

             I just found out the super convenient 7-11 in the town nearby is closing for good on September 8th. This makes perfect sense in that it makes no sense. In Japan, you think of what is logical and rational and then think of the opposite. That place is always packed and clearly makes money so the logical step is to close it. It's really going to cause me a hassle so hopefully some other store will open up in it's place. It will probably cause me to eat better though.

              Sometimes living in Japan is like trying to run in waist deep water.

 

One of my favorite 6th graders was quizzing some others after school about the meaning of various phrases. It was great to walk in and see them doing it without me prompting or suggesting it. Symmetry.

Invariably, when a company or organization in Japan creates a mascot, it will ALWAYS end up looking like:
1) A penis.
2) A tampon
3) A suppository

 

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