Archive for December, 2007

I’m fascinated by the different ways people make money in this country. Almost every day, I seem to notice another bizarre business that someone can apparently make a living in.

There is a guy in Chaiyaphum that sells cowboy hats out of the back of his pickup truck (I have not yet seen a single cowboy hat actually worn or purchased in town, but I guess he has a monopoly), and a team of men who give massages in the men’s bathroom at the town’s only popular live music club (they literally walk up behind you at the urinals and give you a shoulder massage that you didn’t ask for).

The town has no fewer than two dozen fax/copy shops (small storefronts with three xerox machines and a computer) to handle the apparently large quantity of documents that need to be duplicated in a rural town in northeastern Thailand (I have xeroxed a few worksheets for class and sent a fax to my bank back home, but I have trouble imagining that the locals have enough documents to copy to actually keep all these places in business).

My personal favorite, though, is the feather-duster trade that we encountered on a trip to Khon Kaen. We were in town for the somewhat disappointing silk festival (the town is really great, but the silk festival was just another market that sold a bit of silk along with all the usual market fare), when I noticed an unusually large number of men walking through the market carrying dozens of cheap-looking feather-dusters (like the guy in the above photo).

So I did what I always do in these situations, turn to the person standing next to me and ask, “Do you think those guys really spend all day selling feather-dusters?” That was, of course, followed by the usual follow-up: “Are there really that many people in Khon Kaen that need feather-dusters?” And my inevitable third question: “They have to another job, right?”

I can’t answer any of these questions yet, but I suspect one of two things must be the case. The traveling feather-duster salesmen are either selling drugs with a not particularly complex front, or a person can actually feed his family on feather-duster sales.

The latter is still hard for me to believe, even after polishing off a two-egg omelet that cost me 33 cents, but who knows? These businesses may all be fronts for drug-dealing or some other illicit activity, but it just might be possible that a person can actually make a living here selling nothing but feather-dusters.


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To … you

I’ve received quite a few strange letters and messages since moving to Chaiyaphum and I’ve been frequently propositioned in broken English, so I thought I’d share one particularly amusing episode with all of you.

A few days ago, I went to a Japanese place on the top floor of the multi-story Tesco Lotus complex for lunch with my friend Joel. When Joel’s meal came out, our waiter called my attention to a message someone had scribbled on a napkin and placed on the tray next to Joel’s bowl of soup.

My secret admirer did not know my name, so across the top of the napkin he/she had written, “To … you.” Below that was the following message:

What your name?
Do you have telephone?
I miss you. (This line was written in the left column of the napkin, with the words “very much” crossed out)

The letter was signed, “From cook.”

There were only two cooks working that day (the kitchen is visible in this place) and both were male. But we’re hoping the letter was actually from one of the significantly more attractive servers, who mistakenly used the word ‘cook’ instead of ‘waitress.’

Either way, we resisted temptation and rudely left without leaving my number on the back of the napkin.

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On Wednesday, we had the day off to celebrate the king’s 80th birthday. I thought about heading down to Bangkok for the festivities at the palace, but I ended up staying in Chaiyaphum to take part in the celebration here.

The town erected a large stage (above) with an impressive collage of photographs marking different points in the king’s time on the throne. A few dozen students on xylophones provided the musical accompaniment as a few dozen people paraded onto the stage in groups of three to present decorative egg-shaped somethings in front of the king’s picture. A few dozen more stood in front of the stage holding flags (some yellow with the royal insignia, some with the colors of the Thai flag).

This went on for what must have been two and a half hours before the farang left for a bar down the street. We missed what was probably a fairly dramatic moment when the few thousand citizens in attendance lit candles to honor the king, but Jerry was thoughtful enough to light his on the table at the bar.

We did catch a modest display of fireworks (nothing like the display for Loi Krathong at the lake), and we saw a bit of the traditional dragon dance on our way to dinner. At some point after the seemingly endless egg procession, the area in front of the stage was transformed into a dragon-dance floor (someone brought a bunch of decorative poles for the dragons to dance through and around). Someone also set up three large outdoor movie screens next to the stage, which played Thai action movies for small pockets of the crowd that had strayed from the dragon-dancing area.

We spent most of the night standing around wondering what was going on, and taking pictures with our students and the Thai teachers from our school. But there aren’t many places you can find thousands of people standing around a stage in the same yellow polo shirt, so I’d say it was worth seeing.

At some point in the evening, I realized that I have no idea what the president’s birthday might be, much less which day of the week he was born (Thais wear yellow shirts every Monday, the day the king was born). My British friends did not know the Queen’s birthday, either. I’m not sure what that says about Thais, but it’s definitely interesting to watch.

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New features

Just want to call your attention to some exciting new features on the blog.

I just figured out how to put all my photos online, and how to put a link to them on the blog. So you can now check out all the pictures that I haven’t been able to put on the blog directly. Just click on the “My Photos” link on the sidebar and that will take you to my Picasa page. I’ll try to get photos up there as often as I can.

Also, if you want to read about other TEFLers and their adventures, there are now links to some of their blogs on the sidebar right under my new, exciting photo album link.

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The annual Loi Krathong festival was held last week all over Thailand, and the celebration here in Chaiyaphum was quite impressive. It was a lot bigger than anything I would have expected in a town like this.

The traditional element of the festival centers on small, handmade boats (called krathongs) that are made with banana leaves. The boats are filled with flowers, incense and a candle, and some people add a bit of their hair or a fingernail along with a few baht. The krathongs are cast into the water on the day of the festival so that one’s sins will float away down the river.

I was told the entire town would gather at the lake on the night of the festival, so I expected to see a few thousand people cast a few thousand krathongs into the lake and turn the night into one of those classic postcard scenes of an Asian lake filled with tiny floating lights.

This happened, of course, though the wind blew out most of the candles before the postcard scene fully came together. What I did not expect was what came next, which I can only describe as a bizarre blend of all-night music festival, night market, and state fair.

There were four stages of entertainment going all night, with simultaneous performances that included traditional dance, student performances, the Miss Chaiyaphum beauty pageant, and a fairly substantial rock/pop concert complete with lights, a fog machine, and a crowd of screaming Thais.

Between the various stages was a night market of sorts that sold many of the same items you would find at any market (it seemed a bit odd to see things like underwear and socks for sale in the middle of a festival, but that seems to be how they do it over here).

Surrounding the night market were a bunch of large, carnival-style lights, two inflatable slides and various other things that made the place feel a bit like the Iowa state fair. And before the night was out, we had seen at least three different rounds of fireworks.

We left for Momma’s around midnight, and the party was still in full swing.

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Festival pics

There’s the postcard. There are actually a few thousand krathongs in the water, but most of the candles blew out about four seconds after the shivering 10-year-old put them into the lake. It was quite sad to watch, actually. Everyone brought their krathongs to the edge of the lake and handed them down to one of about a dozen shivering children, who stood in the water all night collecting 10 baht per krathong to cast the city’s sins into the apparently very cold water.

This is one of four stages that hosted simultaneous performances from about 8 pm until god knows when. The entertainment ranged from traditional dancing (above) to a surprisingly lively rock/pop show (below).

I’m not sure who the singer is, but a few Thais told me she is a “superstar.” They seem to toss that word around a lot here, but I get the impression she is at least semi-famous over here. There was a huge crowd at the show, and they got a bit rowdy when she sang ‘Zombie.’

This is the Miss Chaiyaphum pageant. There were 20-30 girls competing, all dressed in gorgeous silk dresses like these. They mostly just stood on the stage while somebody rattled on in Thai, but at one point they all walked one by one to the end of the stage and did a bit of a turn before walking back to their places. We didn’t stick around for the whole thing, but I don’t think there was a swimsuit round.

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Before the festival, we all went down to Momma’s to make our krathongs. They had a huge spread of banana leaves and flowers for us, and Un was kind enough to give me a quick lesson in krathong-making.

There were banana leaves and flowers spread across two tables and nine farang furiously crafting our krathongs before the festival.

There’s Olwynn and Jade hard at work.

The finished product. After about a half hour of work, my krathong was complete.

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