Archive for November, 2007

Last week, we went on a bit of a roadtrip with our friends from Momma’s. About seven of us hopped in the back of Mot’s pickup truck, along with his two sons and two of his friends, for the 30-minute drive to a waterfall just outside town called Tad Fa. The rest followed on motorbikes.

We spent the day lounging on blankets at the top of the falls with two Thai families and nine or ten farang teachers. We had a modest spread of food and the requisite bottle of whiskey and soda water.

We also took part in the local tradition at Tad Fa, sliding down the falls on your back. We haven’t had much rain in a while, so the water was too shallow to get any real speed, but it was a good time despite the bruises.

It was also my first opportunity to see the farms that surround the city here in Chaiyaphum. I had been told that many of the people here are farmers, but I hadn’t actually seen any farms until our drive to the falls. But rest assured, there are indeed farms here and there are small country roads where the traffic yields to cows and chickens.

The trip also offered another glimpse into just how poor this town really is. On the way to the falls, we had to stop at three gas stations before we found one that had any gas left.


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Tad Fa

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This was our spread for Thanksgiving at Momma’s. From left, it’s me, Keith, Nathan, Picot, Brittany, Leigh, Jade, Kendra, and Olwynn. That’s 9 of the 12 farang in Chaiyaphum all at the same table. Don’t worry, that happens a lot here.

There’s Joel cooking up his stuffing on a giant wok in the kitchen at Momma’s.

Our Thanksgiving feast doubled as a 25th birthday party for Jade, which helps to explain why there are so many bottles of liquor on the table (and why Jade is wearing that tiara and those incredibly cool Spider-Man gloves, which were a gift from Keith and Olwynn).

The woman waving to the camera at the end of the table is Momma herself.

And that’s me having a serious conversation with a man in a tiara.

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Farang ingenuity

Yes, those are jack-o-lanterns. And yes, we carved them from watermelons.

We couldn’t find any pumpkins here, but I couldn’t let Halloween pass without a celebration just a few months after leaving Madison. Granted, 12 farang teachers in a small restaurant in Chaiyaphum is a far cry from 80,000 costumed drunks on State Street, but I’m comfortable saying our Halloween party was the best in town.

I have been in Chaiyaphum for nearly a month now, and we have already celebrated two holidays that seemingly no one else in town had ever heard of. We had watermelon jack-o-lanterns for Halloween and a full pot-luck feast for Thanksgiving, complete with chicken tacos, a surprisingly delicious stuffing prepared by my neighbor Joel on the restaurant’s wok, cheese and crackers (my contribution), and both pasta- and fruit-salads.

The venue for both was a restaurant we call “Momma’s,” which has become the regular farang hangout in Chaiyaphum. It’s a little storefront shop on one of the main roads that looks like every other restaurant on the street.

In one room is the kitchen, a few tables and a large refrigerator for drinks. In the back, there is another small room with a karaoke machine and a pool table. And in the next room is the family home, where “Momma” (nicknames are given to everyone in Thailand, perhaps in recognition of the fact that Thai names are far too long and complicated for any foreigner to understand) lives with her son Un and his family (he has a wife and two children).

We are there almost every day for at least a meal and often a few drinks. The whole family knows us now, as well as a few of their friends, and they have basically become our adopted Thai family and regular drinking partners.

For both of our makeshift holiday celebrations, we rented the place out (not that there are ever very many people there other than us anyway) and they gave us free reign in the kitchen (which is basically a giant wok and a few cooking surfaces that we don’t know how to use). It may not be traditional, but a good time was had by all.

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Governor’s visit

Our regular Thursday production in front of 3,200 Thai schoolchildren was interrupted last week for a visit from the governor of Chaiyaphum Province.

The school arranged a special morning assembly that included a few words from the governor. The governor then walked through the rows of students on the basketball court for a few photos before leaving with the school director for a tour of the school grounds.

The school’s public relations team was out in full force. Two still photographers were on hand, wearing blue vests that said ‘Public Relations’ on the back in white lettering, and a third cameraman captured the action on a handheld camcorder. He even came by to film us at one point and seemed a bit disappointed that we weren’t doing anything more interesting than sitting in our chairs wondering what might be going on as someone rattled along in Thai on the stage.

It was a very dignified event, but two things stood out in my mind. The first was the deafening sound of the music that blared from a set of loudspeakers in the back of a pickup truck that drives around Chaiyaphum all day advertising god knows what (it made two laps down the street next to our school while the governor was giving his speech). And the second is the apparent fact that no event in Chaiyaphum is dignified enough to prevent a stray dog from wandering right up to the bottom of the stage and stretching out for a nap.

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Morning assembly

This is really impressive, and a bit unsettling, when you first see it, but it is among the many things I’m slowly getting used to here. Every morning, the entire school sits in neat rows on the basketball courts in the center of the school campus for morning assembly.

The assembly begins with the Thai national anthem and a Buddhist prayer, followed by up to 40 minutes of instruction and announcements in Thai that I do not understand. It’s quite a sight, particularly on Thursday mornings when the foreign English teachers are asked to do a short skit in front of 3,200 Thai schoolchildren.

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This is the view from the rooftop bar on the 60th floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel in Bangkok. We got there at 5:00 and stayed until about 8ish, so we got some pictures at early evening when there was still daylight and then we took some after dark when the city was all lit up. We also got to experience a Bangkok sunset, which basically consisted of us trying to locate the sun as the smog turned to a nice shade of orange.

If you look closely, you can just make out the sun on the horizon.

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