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Archive for the ‘Thailand’ Category

I was looking through some old photos from my semester in Chaiyaphum, and I came across one that just had to go up on the blog. And I realized that I have never properly addressed the subject of ladyboys.

The well-dressed individuals in this photo are ladyboys.

They may be dressed better than most of the girls in the auditorium that day, and they definitely have more makeup on, but they are boys. They are students from a high school a few blocks from the school I used to teach in, and they are two of the many ladyboys you are bound to run into if you ever visit Chaiyaphum, Thailand.

Ladyboys are men who dress like women. Some stick to basic make-up (like the gentlemen on the left in the blue shirt), and others go all-out with make-up, wigs, and party dresses (like our friends above). Still others have surgical procedures to make it official.

It’s not unlike the transgender community in America, really. The difference is, in Thailand, it’s really not that uncommon for a boy to decide to be a ladyboy.

Every school has at least a few, including the primary schools. I may have been the only teacher in Chaiyaphum without a ladyboy in my class, which probably had something to do with the fact that all of my students were girls.

There are enough ladyboys in the schools of Thailand that English teachers have developed classroom strategies based on their ladyboy students. At our week-long training session in Bangkok before my fellow TEFLers and I were dispatched to schools in various corners of Thailand, someone from the human resources department of our new employer, the Media Kids placement agency, gave us a surprisingly useful piece of advice.

“Use your ladyboys,” she said.

She then went on to explain why ladyboys tend to be an English teacher’s favorite students.

Not unlike Chinese students, most Thai students are shy. They aren’t very confident speaking in English, and they get very embarrassed when you ask them to stand up in front of 45 classmates and say something in English.

Ladyboys are not shy.

They are confident enough to put on copious amounts of eye makeup, dress like a woman, and spend the rest of their day walking, talking, and acting like a woman. They don’t do all of this to avoid attracting attention. So when their teacher decides to turn the attention of the entire class on just one student, a ladyboy feels right at home.

So if you ever find yourself teaching an English class in Thailand, just look for the student who has way too much eye-shadow on and seems unusually proud of the fact that she’s a girl. Chances are, she isn’t.

And she’s the one you want to call on first.

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I have a bunch of new photos from Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Krabi, and I’ll have a boatload coming from Angkor Wat as soon as I can get them up.

The whole family came out for a few weeks and we toured the Palace and a few wats in Bangkok, caught a few more wats in Chiang Mai and took in some muay thai and a cooking course, and saw some really amazing beaches in Krabi (we also got to do a bit of climbing).

I also have some photos up from Koh Tao and Koh Samui. Just click on the links under “My Photos” to have a look.

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The little boy I’m doing homework with is Fah. He’s learning the Thai alphabet by writing the letters 50 or so times each in his notebook, so I decided to do a couple to help out.

His brother’s name is Fuck. His full name is something in Thai that I couldn’t begin to pronounce or remember, but his English nickname is Fuck.

Every child in Chaiyaphum is given a nickname in English, which is very convenient when they go to school and learn English from a foreign teacher like me. The trouble is, many of the parents who give out these nicknames don’t seem to understand what the names actually mean.

So all over Thailand there are people walking around with names like Porn (our security guard at Satrichaiyaphum High), Beer (a fairly popular name at school), Bum (also fairly popular), and Fuck (Fah’s brother is not the only Fuck I’ve met). Other teachers tell me they have students with even more explicit nicknames, including Tittyporn and Pregoporn.

It’s good for a chuckle from time to time, but I often find myself intentionally mispronouncing people’s names to avoid addressing 12-year-olds who may or may not know what their names mean, by their unfortunate monikers.

Anyone know what Mike means in Thai?

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From time to time when traveling, you come across something that really should have been made clear in the guidebook.

Since many of the places I’ve been to have warranted less than three pages of attention (generally following a lead in which the guide essentially asks why you might be going there and if you might like to reconsider), this has been a fairly common occurrence.

I suppose when you make the decision to hop on a plane to Thailand without being told where you will be teaching for the next four months, you can’t be too surprised when you end up in a town that didn’t even make the index of your guidebook, let alone earn its own listing (Let’s Go has indexed a place called Chaiya, though … apparently it’s a day trip from Surat Thani).

I wouldn’t expect Chaiyaphum to command more than a page or two in any guide, even with construction underway on a brand new Big C shopping center right next to the new Makro that opened a few weeks ago (think Thai Wal-Mart). But there are some things that really would be nice to know before you get there.

A prime example is what Chrissy and I encountered at Khao Yai National Park. One of the more renowned national parks in Thailand, Khao Yai gets two and a half pages in Let’s Go, including this mention about halfway down the third page:

After stepping off the songthaew at the northern park entrance, it’s another 14km to the park headquarters and visitor’s center. You can arrange pickup at the entrance to the headquarters. Although Let’s Go does not recommend it, most travelers find they have to hitchhike there.

What the guide does not make clear is just how much hitchhiking you are expected to do. In order to reach the national park, you take a songthaew from your hotel to the park’s entrance gate (about 300 baht). There, you climb into another songthaew to take you from the gate to the visitor’s center (about 300 baht). There, you get a map of the park and talk to the guy behind the desk, who tells you that the park is very spread out and the best way to get to the waterfall you want to see is to hire a park ranger to take you there on a five-hour hike (500 baht) or to hop into yet another songthaew to the trailhead for a two-hour hike to the falls (300 baht again).

When you finish your hike, you must get back to the visitor’s center, then back to the entrance gate, then back to the town where your hotel was to catch the bus back to Chaiyaphum. For all of these connections, you are expected to hitchhike.

It’s not that there aren’t dozens of songthaews cruising around all over the park, it’s just that almost none of them will agree to take you anywhere. Nearly every songthaew you see will be empty. They are all happy to stop and explain why they can’t take you wherever you are trying to go, but don’t count on them actually taking you there.

At one point, I asked a park ranger where I should go to find the right songthaew to take me from the trail back to the park headquarters. He told me there are no songthaews for that route, and suggested that I hitchhike. I was surprised enough to put the question to him again, and he seemed genuinely confused as to why I thought it odd that a park ranger would tell me to hitchhike around his national park.

We eventually found a songthaew to take us back (after 15 minutes or so of failed hitchhiking attempts). It was the very same songthaew that had taken us to the trail earlier in the day, and the same one who would take us from the visitor’s center to the entrance gate, and then back to the town. He must have saved us at least a half hour’s worth of trying to hitchhike.

The park is, of course, beautiful and worth all the hitchhiking headaches. A few pictures:

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This one gives you an idea on the size of the waterfall. Those are people standing under the falls (one is wearing a yellow shirt).

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The trail to the falls.

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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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