It’s That Time Again…

Blog’s full. Moving on. Check out the new one here. It’s been real!

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Welllll I wanted to get another poem post up (are you poem-ed out? Because there are actually two more poem posts on deck: the kids’ finals. They’re really as much for my own personal archives as anything but they really are cute and I expect you’d derive a bit of enjoyment. But that annoying thing has happened where I fill up all the space in my blog and I don’t feel like setting up a new account right now. Plus I’d already uploaded these photos so I figure I might as well get this post out of the way. More food blogging!)

Back in China there were a few delicious Japanese restaurants. Two, to be exact, right next to one another. (In Jiaxing, that is. Not the whole of China. In case anyone was confused.) You could order à la carte, or pay the equivalent of $30 for all you can eat and drink, which inevitably ended in too much sushi and sake, and a terrible hangover the next day. Sometimes the two would be split up by a rowdy session of KTV.

Though $30 might strike any of you over in the Western world as chump change, in China it was a relative bundle and such occasions were normally reserved for payday. But once a month is just not enough for two sushi fiends like Wayne and myself! And when we saw that nori sheets were available at the big international grocery store, we thought we might be onto something.

Our recipe is kind of a compilation of a number of things we ran into online, with some of our own innovation. And here it is.

First, collect your ingredients.

nori sheets, rice, brown sugar, rice vinegar, lemon, salt, carrot, cucumber, bell pepper, smoked salmon, sesame seeds (not pictured)

though they seem like an exotic requirement, i’ve had no problem finding nori sheets in china, the states, or thailand. check in the asian foods section and i bet they’re there. also, the ingredients are pretty much up to you. smoked salmon is a bit of an indulgence for us, and is normally left out. we go for avocados whenever they’re available. i’ve used steamed shrimp with pleasing results. if you can get sashimi-grade anything at your supermarket i say go for it (with maybe a hint of envy in my tone)!

Second: Prepare the rice. We’ve really embraced our Asian surroundings and bought a rice cooker; stovetop is also fine. There are probably directions on the package. If our rice looks funny it’s because it is. And though I’m sure germinated brown rice is just loaded with benefits it also was pretty finicky sushi rice. I’d say use just regular ol’ white rice, and do yourself a favor by soaking it 10 minutes before cooking– it’ll get nice and sticky!



Third: While the rice is cooking, prepare your veg. Basically cut everything into strips. I like mine as thin as possible; it just makes the rolling easier. Toss them in a bowl with some lemon juice and salt just to keep things nice and fresh.
 Fourth: When the rice has finished, stir up some vinegar and brown sugar, then mix it into the rice. Wayne always gets frustrated with me, and you might too, since I don’t really have exact measurements for this :-/ . It’s really up to you… when it’s all mixed together it should have a nice tangy but slightly sweet flavor, and I imagine at least the sugar just makes the rice a tad stickier.
 Fifth: Lay a nori sheet on a flat, dry surface shiny side down. Many recipes suggest using bamboo mats underneath to aid in the rollin process, and I’m sure if I ever had one and used it it would be a life-changing experience. As things stand, I’ve never had or used one, and things have gone pretty well.
 Sixth: Spread the rice mixture over about 2/3 of the sheet.
Seventh: Layer your fillings across the rice. Right in the middle or just a bit closer to you usually makes for easier rolling.

Eighth: Roll ‘er up. I won’t lie and tell you this won’t be a little tricky the first few times. It would probably be best to start with a more sparsely-filled roll til you get the hang of it. Just do your best to keep it tight and even as you go.

notice all the rice that's fallen out... white rice definitely works better! also, if your rice was still a little warm when you started, the nori should stick to itself with no problem. if this isn't your experience, and you're serving to someone that doesn't mind your saliva, you can just lick it to seal it like an envelope. otherwise just wet the end another way.

 Ninth: Cut ‘er up. Five cuts for six pieces seems to be the standard. A sharp, serrated knife comes in real handy for this portion. Also I think it’s best to make all the rolls first, then get to slicin’. For some reason it’s easier when they’ve rested for a bit.
 Tenth: Make yourself a wasabi (also available in the Asian foods section)/soy sauce mixture, serve, and enjoy!

also not pictured in the ingredients shot, but we all know this is the most important bit right?

 Sorry once again for not having real measurements (I told you I was bad at this stuff…). A cup of dry rice is usually enough for four rolls, which I think is good for two people (I can easily put away two rolls). Like I said, the ingredients are kind of up to you. I think I used one whole carrot, one whole cucumber, and half a pepper for these. Go wild! Who knew sushi was so easy?

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My Twenty-Fourth Year (a Review in Links and Shameless Plugs)

And what a year it was! I bid farewell to China, my home of just over a year, on my birthday last year. I think it happened to be the cheapest day to fly to Bangkok. The majority of the day was spent laid over in the Guangzhou airport (which is not the most exciting of places, by any measure). The night became a worthless expenditure of cab and rundown hostel costs for a “night out in Bangkok” that never happened; instead I got four hours of sleep inside a poorly rigged mosquito net before returning to the airport to head to Surat Thani at 6 am (I’ve since learnt my lesson and have spent two nights in the Bangkok airport in the past year). Definitely not the best birthday, but in a way it was an appropriate beginning to my big year of travel.

Things improved quickly (as I knew they would)! Reunited with Laura on Koh Phangan for some real celebrating at the Full Moon Party. Loved my first taste of Thailand (after exploring Koh Tao, Bangkok, and Ayutthaya) and felt confident in my plans to relocate here in the Spring. October was dedicated mostly to Nepal– what quickly became one of my favorite countries yet. I fell in love with Kathmandu, and then took part in one of the most challenging but rewarding travel experiences to date– the Everest Base Camp trek.

November was a whirlwind of India. Kolkata, where I spent most of my time in the bathroom (ha, I was going to say “on the toilet,” but anyone who’s been to India, or Asia for that matter, knows that depending where you are toilets may be few and far between. Also sorry for being crass? I mean. It’s India.); the retrospectively sillily short trip to Darjeeling; the 36-hour train ride; the ashram. The beaches of Goa, the boulders of Hampi, the five-photos from Mumbai. Camels in Jaipur, Taj Mahals in Agra, delis in Delhi (not really).

And then things settled down! I bid farewell to Wayne in the Delhi airport on December 2. And though my flight to London was delayed by almost 24 hours due to weather, before I knew it I was back home, and would be for four months. Looking back it’s hard to believe it was so long, but it was nice to have the time with my family, catch up with old friends, and make some new ones at my two new restaurant jobs. I got to celebrate Christmas with my family again, my roommates from Rome came to visit from San Francisco and Chicago for a few days, I saw my favorite band/celebrity crush and a fun/new (to me) band (something I was sorely missing outside the States), I made a few trips to the old stomping grounds down in Cville, and one to Minnesota to catch up with my family out there. And somehow in all these goings-on I made the money I needed to actually consider the move to Thailand.

And now I’ve been here nearly six whole months, aside from that little excursion back home for the wedding. Taught a whole term, visited some beaches, painted some walls, bought some furniture, collected some pets, buried one (*kisses finger, points to sky*), started a garden (read: took pictures while Wayne got his hands dirty), met a ton of great people (a few of whom have already moved on to bigger, better things), and even learnt to พูดภาษาไทยนิดน้อย (that’s pud pasathai nitnoi, or “speak a little Thai”). When I was twenty-three, it was a very good year.

Which means twenty-four has some big shoes to fill. I’m generally not big on birthdays (just another day, right?), but because this past year had such a memorable and official-feeling start it was hard not to do some reflecting. Of course it wasn’t all sunshine and roses, but I’ll take the lessons from the handful of lesser experiences and keep the myriad good memories in my mind’s eye (and… on my blog. Multiple times. So no one can ever forget them). Thanks to everyone who’s been a part of giving me such an excellent year, and who’s made the effort to stay close even when I’m so far. I can truly say I’m blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life.

That… took a little longer than I was expecting (not getting any less long-winded in my old age I guess) but I do have just a few quick things to share regarding the fresh new start I’m off to.

Item 1: Dinner
Since everyone knows the way to a lady (especially this lady)’s heart is through her stomach, Wayne played his cards right by cooking me a scrumptious pre-birthday dinner since we’d made plans with friends for the actual birthday dinner. Salmon steaks, roast potatoes, and salad with lettuce from our very own garden. Oh, and let’s not forget that bottle of tempranillo. Nice move, de Villiers. Nice move.

Item 2: Scorpions
There was definitely something missing from My Twenty-Fourth Year, and at the eleventh hour the situation was rectified. I hadn’t yet chased a scorpion from my kitchen! (Though we had been made aware of their presence in Thung Song.) The universe obviously saw that I was still in mourning after losing Jinx, and decided to give me the next best thing it seems. Or perhaps it was revealing the dastardly perpetrator that heartlessly took my darling rabbit from me. I don’t know. But I do know that in addition to (well before!) The Lion King I saw Honey, I Shrunk the Kids as a child, and from it I learnt that scorpions, not unlike the Wu Tang Clan, ain’t nothin’ to (I’ll censor this for you, parents) F with. But I think we all know what that F stands for.

And of course Trix, scared of her own shadow, was sniffing around to investigate. I wasn’t trying to lose two pets in one week, so he needed to go. Fearlessly I swept him out with the broom. This was made easier by the fact that he clasped onto the bristles. And to answer the question I know you’re all asking, Wayne was out buying salmon or my act of bravery probably would have never come to pass. But I waited for him to return before deciding ultimately what to do with it. Though it’s come back to haunt us before, we went the humane route by setting him free in a wild and uncertain environment.

size comparison

Item 3:
Presents. I decided my PJs (with which I was attired during the present opening) are a little PG-13 so no photos. But Wayne got me shoes and paints, and dear old Mom sent me bracelets and a shirt from home so I’d have some prezzies to open :). Oh and I got stuff from some of the girls in town later on as well.

Item 4:
Breakfast? I thought it was cute how they served the toast and the teapot’s gorgeous (yes, oddly every time I order cappuccino here it comes with either a glass or a full pot of jasmine tea) so… there are photos.
 Item 5:
Ah, the age-old and beloved tradition of finishing-one’s-grades-on-one’s-birthday. (Or not, as it turns out, but I’ll spare you the tragic tale of the last-minute unnecessary number scrawling involved today, the first of seven days I expected to come to work with absolutely zero work-related tasks to accomplish.)

"an army of sideways birds": OR 432 of the 3,892 "3"s i had to assign my students for aspects of personality including "love of nation". when i told my TA i had no way to evaluate for this she said, 'oh, then you give them all the highest score.' but note the white-out: a singular 3 at the top and arrow down the column was NOT acceptable.

there's a method to my madness?

Item 6:
Another dinner! The same TA I just mentioned in that semi-scathing remark is actually a lovely woman. For lunch a few weeks ago, she took David, some students, and I to this very-off-the-beaten-path restaurant some sweet lady has created out back of her house. It’s right along a little creek, as you can see, and the food is not only outstanding– it’s ridiculously cheaply priced. Once we were actually able to round everyone up and get them here (a task that seemed more daunting than it ended up being) we were in for quite a treat. Salads, soups, enormous steamed fish with garlic and chili, fried fish and chicken dishes, rice, shrimp, squid, beer… and 10 of us ate for 1580 baht. Total. ($53)

lolz wayne

thanks so much guys! you're all, to use an emma-ism, ace! and of course, the conspicuous absentees: jack and grace. gone home at the onset of the week (rude.) but in our hearts forever!

The night ended in more shenanigans at “Relak” bar (Thais don’t like “s” sounds on the end of words), and thus began the twenty-fifth year.

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Gradtaai Mai Sabaai

So the last post was in a humorous vein, and, God-willing, so will the next, but unfortunately today I bring you bad tidings. The title may seem like a catchy Thai rhyme, but it means “sick rabbit,” and was the name of the game Sunday morning. Like any child of the 90s, I watched The Lion King. In theaters, on or around Thanksgiving, I believe. I cried when Mufasa died, but I also clung tightly to the idea of the circle of life. I mean, it moves us all right?

Alas, now, well over a decade later, I’m struggling a bit with the concept. I won’t go into the details (Wayne finding Jinx lying limp in her box Sunday morning, me desperately giving her water from a syringe, holding her gingerly in my hands as we flew around town trying to find an open vet [it took three attempts], her occasional spasms, the singular scream, realizing during the 10 minute wait at the vet’s office that she’d gone completely stiff and had died in my very hands), but our dear, darling, tiny Jinx proved to be a very  temporary addition to the household. She seemed in great shape on Saturday (most of the footage at the end of the video is from then), but something drastic must have happened in the nighttime hours.

trix is not a good space-sharer

The vet (as he waved her dead body haphazardly around) told us we shouldn’t have been feeding her vegetables– that baby rabbits should only eat rabbit food pellets (just like they would in the wild, of course). Trix hasn’t eaten a pellet since leaving the pet shop and she couldn’t have been much older than Jinx so this has us a bit dubious, but I guess we can’t really say. The vet returned her to me (only at my prompting) and we went and buried her in the field opposite our house. Definitely not the way we were expecting to start our Sunday :(.

I know it’s probably a bit silly for me to get so bummed out about a rabbit, especially one that I’d only had for a week, but the whole ordeal has got me quite melancholy. In a way she was so small and helpless, but at the same time super feisty and totally held her own against the two big bullies she lived with (that is, Trix and Ollie… not Wayne and myself haha). I’d found myself wondering how her markings (that cute white patch on her nose!) would change as she grew up, and I was excited for her and Trix to eventually become real friends and play. We’d (read: I’d) even planned what she was going to be for Halloween! (A ghost… as it turns out… Ay, ye cruel twists of fate!)

So anyway, the family unit’s back down to four. Trix and Ollie don’t seem too affected by her absence. For all we know they’d conspired against her. Rest in peace little Jinxy. I’ll miss coming home and seeing you sitting in your box like a good little bunny. I’m sorry I never made you a nameplate like Trix’, and doubly sorry if anything I fed you killed you. (And while I’m genuinely sad about all this and not really trying to be ironic, don’t think the… borderline humor of my video-with-highly-emotive-music and super-sappy-poem [after the jump] is lost on me. But I’m a wannabe artist and this is how I choose to mourn.)

makeshift grave

Continue reading

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Satree Winds Down

So it’s officially the penultimate day of exam week here at Satree Thung Song School. This means, as you may have been able to ascertain from the fact that this is my third post in the same week, that I have not been too busy. Yesterday I was finally provided with some school-related work in the form of a hundred-some poems from my M5 students (which I was thankful for, since it relieved me from having to spend an hour learning a dance to “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” I did, however, have to spend an hour listening to it on repeat while the others learned; and I will, however, have to learn the dance by Friday, when I will take part in performing it for our end-of-year staff event. Definitely looking forward to that one.)

I just finished testing my babies (pictured above), which is effectively my last contact with the students here, aside from accepting poems from the M4s tomorrow. I know it’s trite to say this about every milestone that indicates that time has passed, but it really is hard to believe the whole five-month term is over! But I thought I’d end on another point of humor.

First, at the end of my final actual teaching period last Friday, I came across an anonymous notebook in the back of the class. I opened it and found it was an English notebook. “Oh no!” I thought to myself. “How will he be able to study?” I flipped through and found that, for better or worse, he’d taken no notes that would be pertinent to the test so decided not to trouble myself with tracking down the student. But I also saw that on a few occasions he’d taken the liberty of writing complimentary notes to himself– from me! Twice for classes in which I wasn’t even teaching (I’d gone home for the wedding and Cian was subbing), and always with creative liberty with the spelling of my name.

must've been channeling the 10th grade me, back when i was 'annjellah'

in my/his defense, i'd written a bunch of incorrect sentences on the board that they were meant to correct. he must have gotten confused/distracted a few times.

So there’s that. Then there’s the idiom hilarity. I’d been teaching my older classes an idiom a day, to the delight of some and the chagrin of others. As a culminating activity I gave them a five-point extra credit assignment where they had to match idioms to meanings on one side, and then ‘write a short story’ on the other side that would show me they understood the meaning. Most students just wrote verbatim the short examples I’d given in class. Others, thinking they were being clever, tried to change subtle details to hide the fact they weren’t putting in a ton of effort. Often this resulted in incorrectness, such as, “I hate going shopping with my grandfather! She’s such a penny pincher!” or “She has a nice pen! I have no pen! I’m red with envy!” Some had clearly found an idiom dictionary online and were just drawing from there, which was fine, except they weren’t always paying attention and I ended up with things like, “rooms wasn’t built in a day.”

But there were some that felt up to the challenge and the results were giggle-worthy, at the very least. A few of these went up on Facebook but they bear repeating.

    • Jenny like rich men. She flirt the millionare. She is a gold digger.
    • I have one sister. She’s gold-digger.
    • I have some secret and can’t tell everyone, but my friend know it. I think he will not say to everyone. Because I want to surprise my mother. One day he has drunk and said everythings to my mother. OMG!!! He let the cat out of the bag.
    • My mather have friend person. She is gold-digger.
    • I met my boyfriend did morning. I’m shy. I’m cat’s got your tongue.
    • I am very busy with a lot of homeworks. My friend come to mistake me, I angry him so much. I tell him “Go away! You should put your foot in your mouth!”
    • While they’re talking in their group they’re looking at me. I wanna give them rain on my parade.
    • Put your foot on your mouth Michael!!! I hate you! Go away!
    • You let the cat out of the bag with me, please.
    • My boyfriend come in my party. I’m on cloud nine. (This one’s a Kings of Leon listener, methinks.)
    • You can play piano very smart. Put your money where your mouth is, please.
    • My father has a new wife. She takes his money and car. She is a gold digger.
    • I have two cats. I’m green with envy.
    • I’m a spy. I shouldn’t put your foot in your mouth.
    • My mother is very economical. When she go to department store with me, I can not buy anything because my mother is a penny pincher, I think.
    • That weekend, I went to party at night with my friend. I play game, tell secret, drink alcohol, I think that time is over the moon for me. (“I hope not!” this concerned teacher wrote.)
    • And last, but certainly not least: A woman is very poor. She takes brother’s money, so I wanna sayin’ she’s a gold digger. No idea where he learnt that!!!

So I suppose here it’s worth mentioning that I started this post yesterday, and was interrupted by an “invitation” to come practice the “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie” dance. Which I understood to be less of an invitation and more of a, “You got out of it yesterday, but we really expect you to come practice with us today.” Oh you sneaky Thai doublespeakers! I’m onto you. Guess I really put my foot in my mouth on that one!

Anyway, that makes today the last day of tests and hopefully soon-to-be last day of grading for me… yet we’re still required to come to work for the next two weeks? Oh well. And just on a closing note, I’m sure all the children have done exceptionally well on their finals. After all, I walked into a classroom this little foolproof study-advice tidbit still brandished on the board from the previous class:

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Thai Toast

I’ve mentioned a few times that Wayne keeps encouraging me to start posting some of our kitchen endeavors to the blog. While I’m pleased to say that we eat pretty well at home, much of what we do is just taken from other recipes we find online (the food blogs in my sidebar are all well worth checking out!). When we do get creative, I’m usually too lazy/absent-minded/messy-handed to take photos. But one morning this weekend, when heading back from “the Seven” (Thailand’s term of endearment for the 7/11s) with my bread, eggs, and coconut milk, I made a mental note that this would be my first venture into food blogdom.

The thing about my “Thai Toast” is that while I was imagining a pronounced tropical twist on an old favorite (coconut milk in the egg batter– this is actually a really nice milk substitute in everything I’ve tried it in, like cereal and pancakes; honey in place of impossible-to-find-maple-syrup), the end result ended up being… quite like the original “French” variety. I had considered slicing up some bananas to get all nice and seared and mushy atop the toast, but the laziness/absent-mindedness factor kicked in again. Might be worth a try, just to add some extra “Thai” flare.

First: Gather your ingredients. (Note: The bread I got here was really thin and flimsy, meaning I probably didn’t need to use 1:1 egg/bread slice ratio. I had lots of extra batter. And I didn’t really measure my ingredients either… call it a quarter cup of coconut milk, two tablespoons of sugar, and… a teaspoon-and-a-half of cinnamon?)

sliced bread, eggs, cinnamon, coconut milk, butter, sugar, and honey

 Second: Combine eggs, coconut milk, cinnamon, and sugar in a bowl. Mix with a fork.
Third: Melt some butter in a pan on medium heat. We are still in the process of getting our home goods together, and do not have a flat or non-stick pan. Hopefully you do, but if you’re in similar straits just make sure the butter gets spread around everywhere the egg will cook, otherwise you’ll have terrible stickage issues. While the butter’s melting toss some bread in your egg mixture. Let it really soak on both sides. When the magical crux of the pan being hot/butter being melted/bread being soaked occurs, toss one of them bad boys in the pan.

i mentioned earlier i had excess batter, so i went ahead and poured a little extra on top of the bread and let it spill over the sides.

Fourth: When you notice the egg around the edges of the bread (there will be lots of this if you use my ‘pour excess batter atop bread’ strategy) getting firm, it’s time to flip. Even if you were careful to spread your butter around to avoid sticking, you might run into issues if you have a pan even remotely as bad as ours. It’s best to run a spatula around the sides of the whole piece before attempting the actual flip. Flipping has always been a weak point with me so maybe I’m spending too much time on this. I don’t think I’m really cut out to be a food blogger.

Let it cook for about two minutes on the other side, remove from pan, and repeat steps three and four until all your bread has become French Thai toast.

last piece. lots of batter left over. thought i'd make a super-duper piece for wayne.

but... i told you i had flipping issues, right?

wayne can still have this one!

Fifth: Top your toast with honey (raw, organic if you can get it! And it’s rich stuff. A little goes a long way…), and keep away from dog.
 So… ta da! Thai Toast. Go home and give it a thrai.

(That was for you, Scotty O, but… too much?)

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Peasant “Jokes”, Night Market, Poker, and a New Addition

I’ve got a bone to pick with WordPress, for I’d written almost this entire entry, and suddenly it was all gone, and neither Command+Z nor an attempt to revert to a previous revision could save me. This might have been a blessing for you though, dear reader, because I’m too lazy to try to recreate the whole post and therefore will present to you the nutshell version. (Though it still might be a fairly large nutshell.)

Things all kicked off Friday night with a staff dinner at Satree to bid farewell to the retiring teachers. Expecting a borderline awkward evening attempting to make strained smalltalk with all our fellow employees, I’ll admit I don’t think David nor myself were looking very much forward to it. But we’d been reminded so many times by so many teachers it was clear that our attendance was important. And, as is usually the case, it ended up being an enjoyable evening after all.

two of our coworkers dancing while the principal and another employee serenaded the hall. the principal concluded the song with a quip that drew lots of laughter, and the translation i received was, 'when we sing in different keys, we can't go together.'

Conversation was neither strained nor awkward, but even if it had been we would have kept ourselves entertained simply by watching the steady stream of karaoke volunteers and their accompanying dancing. And even if that hadn’t been sufficient for our attention spans, right before we left a “peasant woman” (complete with drawn-on mole and blacked out teeth) took the stage. She seized the microphone, and in a comic falsetto punctuated occasionally by a hag’s cackle grabbed the attention of the entire banquet hall. She scattered flower petals over the heads of those who approached the stage to drop 500 Baht notes into her basket, and when her song was finished she marched straight into the crowd to collect more money between epileptic dance moves. I asked my coteacher what was happening and she told me it was a “joke, Thai style.” I asked who the woman was and she said, “It’s the teacher of home economics. I think she’s a bit drunk.” I realized not an hour before the Home Ec teacher had joined our table to chat, and that she had indeed been one of the few women sipping on the complimentary Heineken.

Saturday night served as an opportunity to check out the big market that’s temporarily rolled into town. There are plenty of permanent markets around town; some for fruit, some for veg, some for household items, some for clothes, some by day, some by night, some every day and night and others with an unpredictable schedule throughout the week. But just in case all this wasn’t enough, from time to time something really big and special comes through, and they’re usually an excellent photo op. Behold:

a market in asia's not a market in asia without some insects, right?

more on this later.

check it out, more bugs!

quail eggs. a favorite in china, but we've yet to try them here.

true color: curried squids. not bad!

mixing up our mussel and shrimp noodles

The market visit segued right into the Second Weekly Thung Song Poker Night at David’s. (Wayne and I were to sleepy to join the first last week.) This was good fun, and luckily a low-stakes, friendly game of poker in Thailand means that even when you recklessly keep yourself afloat by grabbing 20s from your purse, you only end up losing $10 by the end of the night.

grace is a singha soda water spokesmodel/acrobat.

wayne's pile o' cash, despite being color (and, as it turned out, shape) blind, folding on the odd flush, and thinking he was 'bluffing' when he really had a straight

my pile o' cash, despite my loud boasting that my dad taught me to play poker with jelly beans when i was 11, and the fact that i recklessly kept myself afloat by pulling 20s from my purse

So I guess that brings us to… our new addition. I’ve heard that getting tattoos can be addictive. Since I’m one of the few tattoo-less squares left in the world, I can’t attest to this from personal experience. But if I were to get one, I’m sure I’d end up sparing myself the strain of choosing between that cloud/bird/fish/tree/mantra/line of Morse code and just go for them all. Because they’re addictive, you see. No, we may both be tat-free, but that doesn’t mean Wayne and I aren’t struggling with another, equally serious addiction. Pets.

On Sunday morning Wayne said to me, “I think we should go back to that market. For shoes. And a friend for Trix.” (You’ll recall those tiny, darling, hideous-dress-clad bunnies we saw at the market above.) And it seemed true. Since we got Trix people (Thai people, Internet people, former rabbit-owning people) have been telling us that we should have gotten two, rabbits are social, rabbits get lonely. Of course, we were hoping Ollie and Trix could have an unlikely but adorable friendship such as that in The Fox and the Hound (but without the tragic ending, of course). But the fact that Ollie still seems to consider Trix to be food, and Trix is subsequently terrified of Ollie, this hasn’t been going so well. So we came home with… this:

meet jinx.

fast friends! or are they...

It seemed like a match made in heaven when they met last night. Trix sniffed her out, we set up their boxes right next to each other but they were happy to be communal about the whole thing (read: Trix insisted on jumping into whatever box Jinx found herself in as though to determine, excuse the pun, whether or not the grass was greener). Bottom line, they seemed happy.

But something changed over night. Trix must have learnt all her, well, tricks from Ollie, because this morning it was chase-and-bite central in the rabbit pen. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a rabbit scream before. It’s a fabled noise I read about once as a kid; I don’t remember anything from the story except a hawk swooped out of the sky and plucked a rabbit from the grass, and as they flew away the rabbit screamed. I think this story might have been where I learned the term ‘blood-curdling.’ In all our years (okay, months) of rabbit-owning, Trix has never screamed. But this morning she made that damn baby scream and it was indeed an unsettling noise (though I don’t know if I’d describe it as blood-curdling). So… we’re not quite sure what to do. And this story, as predicted, is beginning to require a very large nutshell so I’ll leave you here. Hopefully Jinx survives long enough to earn herself a video.

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English Poetry By Thai Students

When setting up my curriculum (yes, I had to set up my own curriculum), I’d penciled in a poetry unit early in the semester. What with the plethora of canceled and shortened classes, we were warned that we needed to make some elements of our curricula dispensable, and originally it looked like poetry would be the thing to go.

However, David mentioned he was doing poetry, in many cases with students much younger than the kids with whom I’d be doing it, and it seemed to be going well. I was inspired, and decided my space/constellation/zodiac unit would get the axe instead. (Don’t you raise your eyebrows at me. I did it ever-so-briefly with a class in China and it went really well.)

I ended up having not nearly enough time. The end of the year just crept up on me, I guess. I had all kinds of ideas… a class on haikus for practice with syllables, tons of rhyme brainstorming warmer sessions, simple rhyme gap-fill exercises. I was going to wrangle these kids into proper poetry-writing shape if it was the last thing I did. Instead, I only ended up having 3-4 classes total in which to teach it. I braced myself for the worst, but I really can’t believe some of the things I’ve been handed. The collection I’m presenting today is some of my favorite 4-line poems they had to submit for homework after only two periods. Well impressed I was, and I think you will be too! The grammar isn’t always spot-on, and you’ll notice these little adolescents seem to be quite lovestruck (though there are some sweet ones about their family, some about pets, and even a nice one about a sandwich there at the end that I mentioned to Emilie could easily have been written by Liz Lemon). But there’s some solid work here, often with some cute artwork to accompany. So without further ado:

In light of my “giant copy machine” post I thought I should answer the question I know you’re all asking: Did the kids all wise up and use the best of their own abilities to compose this literary masterpieces? Well, as far as the ones above, I believe so. But of course there were the few poems rocking words such as “doth” “thee” and “Minerva” which served as dead give-aways of Internet usage. On most of these I stoically write, “I asked you to write a poem, not find one on the Internet. 0/5,” but I had the pleasure of pointing out one boy’s folly face-to-face.

I’d given the students time to work on the eight-line poem they’ll have to make a poster of for their final in class, and encouraged them to come to me for assistance or just to check their work. The boy in question strode right up and proudly tossed his notebook on my desk. There were no antiquated pronouns, but it did seem just a little too good to be a first-attempt by a non-native English speaker, and the giggles from the girls behind him didn’t come to his aid. I quickly typed in the first line to Google and watched the panic swell in his face. When the search kicked back his poem in an anonymous Facebook note he covered his head and issued a mini-scream of defeat. The girls’ giggles increased to full blown laughter and I said, “Let this be an example to you all!!!!” In graded language, of course.

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Night in Nakhon

I’d intended this to be a little addendum to my last post, but that one ended up being a bit overwhelming in length without any addenda, so let me just squeeze this in before pinning up all the cute, creative, and sometimes confusing poems I’m being handed in spades by my students.

Our friend David, whom we met on the bus to Koh Phangan way back when, and who visited us in Thung Song a month ago-or-so, told us the night of September 2 might be a good time to come see him in his home of Nakhon Si Thammarat. His reasoning was that there would be live music (the absence of which in Thung Song we’ve been known to lament) at a local reggae bar, where we were also welcome to sleep in one of the abundant hammocks if we didn’t feel like booking accommodation.

Jack and Grace were also down, but crushed our dreams of hammock-cradled slumber by saying they had a Thai friend in Nakhon who’d be able to find a nice affordable hotel for us. The four of us hopped on the mini-bus at 5:30 on Friday afternoon, and were in our province capital in an hour. Pak, the Thai friend, picked us up, and after a quick check-in at the hotel we scooted off to Lifestyles.

Believe it or not, the presence of Mexican food was one of the biggest things people would mention when outlining reasons to go to Nakhon, and apparently Lifestyles is the place to get it. Perhaps even more unbelievable is the fact that my shrimp fajitas were damn good. David was also there, and before we knew it we had a whole table of farang who were in town for the event. When we finished eating it was off to the Full Moon Bar.

oh, this guy showed up to dinner as well.

yeah, elephants pretty much frequent restaurants all the time around here

David had made it seem like it would be kind of an Open Mic kind of deal and had encouraged me to play, but when we arrived there was a pretty good band going at it and my performance anxiety kicked in a bit. David did take the stage afterwards and did a good job. He was followed briefly by a very flamboyant ladyboy named Fantasy who just did an interesting interpretive dance before she was replaced by a Thai reggae band.

part of the decor, which we found fit to have a photo shoot on

david jammin’ away

hard to see but that dark specter is fantasy

jack, practicing looking american for his upcoming trip

Apparently Nakhon Si Thammarat has a really cool temple that’s worth seeing, but we instead chose to dedicate the next day to it’s famous mall, Robinson Ocean. And more specifically, to the big Tops grocery store in the mall. But we got some rye flour that’s been good to us on two occasions and, at the former South Korea residents’ suggestion, some kimchi, which was good to us on one occasion. Then we came home.

Oh and I guess I might as well throw in a little life news… Ollie’s gotten new housing arrangements. Whereas once he was a prisoner to our downstairs bathroom (and… not a very good one. Or should I say, his jailers were pretty incompetent because on occasion we’d come home to [see left]). Since we were just going for a night we decided to try our luck keeping him outside, with enough food so as not to starve him. We were prepared to come home to all the vegetables destroyed and a giant mess of anything he could make a mess of, but he did really well! And now whenever we come home there he is, waiting at the gate.

Speaking of vegetables… We finally got some! A handful of “mellow yellow” beans that managed to avoid the predation of Trix and other garden scavengers, which we didn’t even eat properly but were covertly blended into a smoothie by Wayne. And, some really lovely lettuce that has served us well so far on mushroom burgers, mock chicken wraps, and in a salad last night. Maybe I’ll start food blogging after all.

Other garden and house updates… more orchids hanging from our courtyard lime tree, another photo blown up for the kitchen wall, and a cute little bonsai that will hopefully last better than the one I had in China.

And of course… the few stock animal shots.

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“We Live Inside a Giant Copy Machine”

-David Key

I suppose this is really an appropriate follow-up post to my last one… One of those, “Which do you want to hear first, the good news or the bad news?” scenarios. Except I didn’t give you an option, and instead thrust the good news upon you first, which I’ve learned from movies is rarely the way people actually ask for it to be given.

I suppose it’s worth mentioning that I’m only afforded this opportunity for a post at this hour on a Monday morning because my Mattayom 5/1 class, whom I only see once a week for a big, long, 100-minute double block (as opposed to two 50-minute blocks at different times in the week like all the other classes), had been replaced by 30 inverted chairs atop desks this morning. In a way this was all too appropriate in that “full circle” kind of way (you may recall on the first day of school the class was also canceled without any forewarning, though that experience was slightly more dramatic than this), because today would have been our last day of regular class. Meaning that next week is finals, which I was actually given the option of doing in the normal schedule with the other teachers as opposed to doing them on my own time, unlike midterms. Except even this has become problematic, because my finals were going to be short, individual presentations by each student, and I was told today I was given one hour block (read: not nearly enough time) for all 130 (give or take) of my Mattayom 4 students and another for all 160 (give or take) of my Mattayom 5s. Oh and I should be prepared for many of my kids to be missing from class this week due to “activities”, which (I suppose one can only construe, after what feels like the thirtieth demonstration) are clearly far more important than the classes themselves.

But I digress. Though it did seem fitting to convey the source of my current frustration with the job, it’s more of an institutional issue than any problems I have with the students, and, delightful as they all are, the little whippersnappers do have their ways of grinding this curmudgeon’s gears. Which is what the real focus is today.

It’s actually not a very extensive list, and most of its items won’t even warrant much attention at all. Like, the fact that they spend 10 minutes drawing margins on the pages of their notebooks. I’m sure in their other classes this helps them achieve a high level of organizational efficiency, but I find it largely unnecessary and I’d even go so far as to call it a complete waste of time.

Item Two doesn’t go for everyone but in my post-Lunch classes there are a handful of (mostly) boys that come sauntering in about 5 minutes late(r than everyone else, who are probably a bit late to begin with) to every class. Unfortunately, given the bizarre, no-time-allotted-for-class-changes nature of the schedules, we’re forced to show a certain level of understanding when it comes to tardiness, but their track record is certainly suspicious. I’ve considered prohibiting them entry a few times, but I have a feeling this would come back to haunt me.

Item Three: Headphones! In what world of absolute insolence do we live that gives these kids the message that it’s cool to sit there and listen to their newfangled gadgets while I’m giving a lesson? Good-natured as I tend to be, I always ask whether they were listening to English music (as though it’s some kind of after thought, and as though I’d allow them to continue rocking out if this were the case). The answer, without fail, has been “No”. Which leads me to believe that even though Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and (judging from commonplace T-shirts and graffiti) Slipknot have made good names for themselves on this portion of the globe, the English-speaking market is severely behind that of the Koreans. (See Super Junior, Rainbow, and Girl’s Generation; but don’t be fooled by their English names, song titles, and frequently nonsensical refrains.)

This brings us to the Fourth Item (that comes readily to mind) on the list of Things Students Do That Grind This Curmudgeon’s Gears. And this, most undeniably gear-grinding item, is copying. Lord have mercy. I’ve told them, over and over. I’ve asked, “Do you think I’m stupid?” (And have had my “angry” cover blown when the odd student, either sincerely or because he or she wasn’t paying attention, nods assertively and says, “Yes,” to the horror of the rest of the class, causing me to crack a smile.) I’ve shown them just how obvious it is that people are copying when 12 students in the class have answered a homework answer with, “I perfer stay at Elite Hotel because it lovely and beautiful hotel,”  after displaying identical grammatical errors throughout the rest of the assignment as well. It’s gotten to the point that I can see that the majority of my students more-or-less get it, and roll their eyes a bit when I get on my soapbox for the umpteenth time to ask, “Copying is good or bad? Copying makes Teacher happy or angry?” (Yes, that’s patronizing use of the third person).

And yet… there’s still that handful of kids who just can’t kick the habit. In a way I feel like it was destined to be a losing battle. You can’t walk through the halls without stumbling upon a group of students huddled around a Chosen One’s notebook, completely unabashed and presumably also stumbled upon by the odd Thai teacher, who could do a better job of chewing them out than me, but seem to only turn a blind eye instead. When lamenting about this with my fellow farang teachers David issued the title-winning quote about our existence inside a photocopier. And it was kind of the same in China. It seems like in this culture, being able to provide a correct answer is far more important than being able to steer oneself through the process of getting there. But while I try to be open to most aspects of this culture in which I am a stranger and a guest, this element really doesn’t cut it for me.

Which is why things got brought to a new level, and David’s “copy machine” quote became a bit prophetic, on Friday when I was checking the homework from my Mattayom 1s (my ‘little guys’, I like to call them). When they’d handed it in the day before I noticed a few did so on regular white paper, as opposed to the lower-grade recycled paper our copies come out on. Foolishly, I was proud of them for having taken the initiative to get a new copy of the homework, rather than use the old “Teacher, lose!” excuse. That is, until I saw, well, this. From two different classes:

ol' goo was so benevolent as to dish out his paper to two of his lazy friends!

she turned in a photocopy complete not only with the answers of the original, but also a few of her own, in blue pen, where the original had forgotten to. simultaneously outrageous and amazing.

or how about this: seven papers that use the answers "go jogging" and "go shopping" in the exact same spaces... even though those weren't included in the options to be used.

It was pretty astounding to me, and a bit heartbreaking to have to explain to the kids who were quick to note that it was they who actually did the work that got handed off to the other little sneaks, that they were complicit and therefore subject to a bit fat zero (and accompanying frowny-face) as well. I think even more heartbreaking was that no sooner had a finished my rant than I looked up to see a girl blatantly copying her neighbor’s sheet from the day before (which I’d already said multiple times we didn’t need on the day in question). A losing battle indeed, it would seem.

Of course, there are the kids who take the high road, and do their own work no matter what degree of confusion they may be experiencing:

But hey, at least he lovs his mom (if only on 9:55 on Saturday).

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