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Archive for February, 2008

The next stop

I’m now a very small amount of paperwork away from completing my first semester as an English teacher, and I am happy to report that I have officially found a job in China.

It’s a one-year contract with a technical college in Yangzhou, which is a medium-sized city about an hour away from a big city called Nanjing and 3-4 hours from Shanghai. So for the next year, I’ll be teaching no more than 16 hours a week and making less than $800 a month, which I can apparently live comfortably on in China.

The city is supposed to be very beautiful, and it is a popular spot for Chinese tourists. It is famous for its bathhouses, pedicurists, and fried rice, and the Slender West Lake is the main attraction.

It’s a smallish city by Chinese standards, but it’s bigger than most cities in Thailand. It has all the essentials (bars, restaurants, shopping), but most people don’t speak English and I should continue to field regular questions about where I’m from, what my name is, and where I’m going.

Nearby Nanjing is a real city, with everything a person might want. But it sounds pretty authentically Chinese. My favorite example so far is this one: the trendy nightlife strip is called “1912,” to commemorate the year Sun Yat Sen toppled the Qing Dynasty.

I can’t wait to get there, but a month of backpacking through Thailand is not a bad way to pass the time. I’m leaving Chaiyaphum on Tuesday for an island in the South (still haven’t decided which one), then it’s on to Koh Tao, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Krabi, and Cambodia.

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That pretty much sums it up. I haven’t posed for that many camera-phones in my life. I even got to sign a few autographs.

Here are some of the highlights:

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Most of Mathayom 4/2 didn’t make it to our final lesson, but a few of them did. And they even wrote some kind words on the blackboard.

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I took about a million pictures with Mathayom 4/10. Here’s a few of the best:

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I’ll miss you, Mathayom 4/9

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I just finished my last class here at Satrichaiyaphum High.

Final exams start tomorrow and run through the end of next week, which means I’m 150 tests and a bit of paperwork away from completing my first semester as an English teacher. I still can’t believe that sentence is true, but I’m getting used to the idea.

And yes, I have pictures:

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Ayutthaya

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Most of the Buddhas in Ayutthaya are missing a head and at least one hand, so I thought I’d lead with one that escaped the Burmese invasion (apparently the Burmese invaders believed the Buddha’s power was held in the head and right hand, so they chopped these off of most of the statutes in the ancient capital).

My first thought upon entering the ruins district of Ayutthaya, which is conveniently located about two blocks from the backpacker strip, was to wonder why any society at any point in time would need so many temples so close together. In a radius of no more than three city blocks are the ruins of about a dozen ancient temples. Which means that at some point in Thai history, presumably when Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand, there were a dozen functioning temples within a few minute’s walk.

I, of course, can’t answer this question except to say that Buddhism is taken quite seriously here. The most common excuse for missing my class is an activity at the temple. Three or four times this semester I’ve had up to half my class missing for activities at the temple, and two weeks ago half of my students spent three days at the temple for what they called, “Buddhism Camp.”

In any event, Ayutthaya is one of the best places in Thailand to take ridiculous amounts of pictures, which is what I did during my afternoon there before taking a really good boat trip on the river and a really lousy night tour of the temples.

If you’re ever in Ayutthaya, skip the night tours. The guide books rave about them because you miss the crowds and the afternoon heat, but you’ll also miss actually getting to walk around the temples taking ridiculous amounts of pictures. The temples are lit up at night, providing enough light to see that there is a temple there but not enough for your picture to come out. And though they are lit for the night tours, the temples are closed before dark, which means you can’t get inside and walk around without jumping a fence (which our guide advised us to do at one of the temples to get a better photo).

So the night tours essentially amount to sitting in the back of a songtheaw and being driven to 6-7 temples, where you are given 4-5 minutes to snap a photo from the sidewalk and show your fellow tourers what the inside of the temple looks like on the screen of your digital camera (almost everyone had pictures of the temples from the afternoon, when a 30 baht entrance fee provides unlimited access to the temple grounds for as long as you feel like walking around). The crowds, by the way, were pretty small when I was there, so there wasn’t much need to avoid them.

Anyway, here are a few of the 300-plus photos I took in my one afternoon in Ayutthaya:

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The ruins are right in the center of town. Those buildings in the background are modern apartments. They are right across the street from the main ruins district.

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This is one of the best photo ops in Ayutthaya. It’s a stone head of the Buddha (presumably one of the many that were chopped off by invaders) sitting in the roots of a tree. The tree apparently grew around the statue’s severed head, and many years later we are left with something that belongs in an art museum.

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A closer look.

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Here’s the whole tree.

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This is how some of the tourists ride. There was a procession of about 10 of these walking down the sidewalk in the center of the ruins district.

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I just like this one.

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There are strange animal figurines in front of many of the temples in Thailand, but this is my favorite so far. There’s really nothing like five-foot plastic roosters and elephant topiary. If you look closely, you’ll see that there is an army of tiny, plastic roosters standing behind the big, plastic roosters in the foreground.

Don’t ask.

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Good luck, Mathayom 1/1

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Friday was my last class with Mathayom 1/1, so I had to take a few class photos.

That peace sign pose, by the way, is literally the only way Thai people take pictures. And it’s not just kids. Anyone you meet on the street, in a bar, at a restaurant. Same pose.

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The Great Firewall

I’m already beginning to feel the effects of China’s internet censorship, and I haven’t even booked my flight out of Bangkok.

Apparently, Blogspot (the site that hosted my travel blog) has been added to an expanding list of websites that are blocked by the Chinese government in what Chinese bloggers have termed, “The Great Firewall.” So I welcome you to my new travel blog (hosted by a site called WordPress, this time), which I can happily access in Shanghai without breaking Chinese law.

I’ve heard one can draw the attention of the censors by using banned words or phrases as well (bloggers have taken to using acronyms for the more popular banned phrases, which has even lead to the banning of certain acronyms), so this blog may one day find itself in the clutches of The Great Firewall, too.

Until then, read and enjoy.

You can read about The Great Firewall here and check out one of the many sites offering advice on how to get around it (notice how the author uses the acronym “GFC” to avoid using a banned term).

An update on the 100-day mourning period: Officially, the mourning period is still in effect for the full 100 days (which will end in mid-April, just in time for the Thai New Year’s festival). But at this point, most people have stopped taking it very seriously.

Music is now being played just about everywhere I’ve been. I just saw Body Slam, one of the biggest bands in Thailand, play a show in a club in Khorat called Living Bar (450 baht for a ticket and three Singhas!), and there was live music playing in Lopburi this weekend and in Khon Kaen the weekend before that. None of those are tourist towns and two of them are in Isaan, so it’s fair to say that the music ban has effectively, if unofficially, been lifted.

The teachers are still wearing black here at Satrichaiyaphum High, though, and that should continue for the full 100 days.

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Super Thursday

Two days after the Super Tuesday primaries, the votes were counted here at Satrichaiyaphum High in the annual student leader election.

In a landslide victory, Satang from Mathayom 4/9 (one of my students!) won the election with 798 votes. The victory capped weeks of intense campaigning, including a last-minute rally yesterday afternoon that featured a surprise appearance from the candidate’s English teacher (the whole class stood in front of the school with a giant banner and a megaphone, and I posed for a picture with the campaign team).

The school has been covered with banners and posters for weeks now and all of the candidates gave speeches yesterday prior to today’s vote. The votes were actually counted publicly in the center of campus this morning. One student counted the votes and read each one out on a megaphone and another student tallied each vote on a big whiteboard. There was a small crowd around the vote-counting station all morning listening to the returns.

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