I’ve certainly gotten a lot of exercise over the past few days. It’s been extremely hot so I’ve been sweating no matter what I’ve been doing (even laying around doing nothing). But mostly I’ve been doing things. I don’t have any lessons at my school on Wednesdays so I taught two private lessons yesterday — one in the morning and one in the evening. After the first, I spent a couple of hours just walking around the heart of Phuket Town.
That heart is centered on the Old Town — Thalang Road in the middle, paralleled by Phang Nga, Ratsada and Dibuk Roads and bisected by Yaoworat and Phuket Roads. My new apartment is just a block east of this square on a small lane off of Suthat Road. This area contains loads of hundred-year-old Sino-Portuguese shophouses with the Baba Chinese providing the predominant culture (and food). Of course, there are several Buddhist temples (wat) nearby as well as at least two large mosques, one Hindu and numerous Chinese shrines, even a Christian church and Bible-study center. The endless variety of eateries and quaint shops is what I like the best and I enjoyed exploring. Not only are there a number of batik silk shops, mom-and-pop markets, and plenty of printing shops (using really old preses), but there are three large bookstores. I reviewed Southwind Books on one of my previous blogs but just down Phang Nga Road a bit farther is a large banner advertising “Used Books”. It also has the “Southwind” name so they’re probably owned by the same person. Perhaps a five-minute walk from my apartment is Seng Ho Books — Phuket’s oldest bookshop (it might even be the oldest in Thailand — I can’t remember at this time). While most of Seng Ho’s three levels are devoted to books in Thai, there is an excellent but small selection of novels, travel guides, books about Thailand and Buddhism, etc. on the ground floor.
I’d taken to walking through “Queen’s Park” as a short cut between Thalang Road and Dibuk Road. During February’s Old Town Festival and Chinese New Year celebrations, a large stage is erected here with some really diverse performances (I watched “Polynesian” dancers here last year). Last night the park was full of locals doing their evening exercises and kids climbing on the playground equipment. It reminded me of the mass crowds I saw practicing tai chi in Beijing some years ago.
I took a break from the sightseeing for homework review session with one of my former students. This will probably be my last private lesson for a while as they are moving to Singapore next week. I’m going to miss the kid (not to mention the extra income). Having accumulated enough cash to pay the deposit and first month’s rent on my chosen room-for-rent, I made the fifteen-minute walk from my guesthouse to the apartment building after a quick stop to photocopy my passport. The landlady (rather young and quite attractive) just took the deposit money and indicated I would pay her for twenty-six days (rather than a full month) on the 31st of July. I deposited the leftover cash into my bank account on the walk back down to Thalang Road. I decided to celebrate a bit so I stopped at one of the many restaurants in the area for a rare dinner out.
The restaurant was called The Cook and is on Phang Nga Road near the large Bangkok Bank and On On Hotel. There were plenty of enticing and inexpensive items on the menu. I’d noticed the hamburgers when I’d looked at the streetside menu earlier but opted for penne with tomato sauce (which the waitress repeated as “macoroni with sauce”). With water to drink, the bill came to 80 baht and I left a 10-baht tip. It was very good and they even brought out a shaker of cheese which you don’t get too often at the places I eat at! After dinner, I packed a few things at the guesthouse and walked them over to the new apartment. I’m going to need a padlock for the door but other than that everything’s nice. I love the balcony and the ceiling fan keeps things nice and cool!
I spent the night in the guesthouse as I’d already paid for it and got up very early to check out. I finally took advantage of the included breakfast (two slices of toast with jam and butter, a plate of fruit, and choice of coffee or tea — I went with the tea). It was already blazing hot when I walked up to my new home so the cold shower was very welcome (yes, there is once again no hot water in my new home but at least the water works!). I even had time to relax for a little while before making the five-minute trek over to the school for today’s lessons.
It was the grade four students’ turn to meet the new farang teacher with plenty of hand-shaking going on. In fact, I taught a number of kids a special handshake that started with a knuckle-rap followed by a high-five and finished with a thumb-press that twisted into the handshake. They got a kick out of that! Also, every child seem to have some sort of Carabao promotional item today — I saw stickers, posters, bandanas, buttons, and inflatable baseball bats. This is my favorite Thai rock band and as part of their 30th anniversary tour this year they are playing at least one concert in each of Thailand’s seventy-eight provinces. The Phuket concert was last night and apparently it was very close to the school. I’d completely forgotten about it (and never found out the exact location) but in retrospect it certainly explains the heavy traffic and fireworks I saw last night in the area.
The lesson plan for P4 dictated the topic of “Kinds of Food and Drinks” so I treated it as a bit of an expansion to what I taught in P3 on Tuesday. We categorized what the different food and drinks one could expect to eat during each of the different meals and added “snacks” to the equation (as per the course outline). In two out of the three classes I was able to have the kids practice responses to the question, “What do you like to eat?” They were to answer, “I like…” The third and final lesson of the day started almost ten minutes late because the kids didn’t arrive in the classroom until that time. I had to hustle to get everything on the blackboard so they could copy the material in their notebooks. It’s hard enough include all of the teaching points in the reduced time of forty-five minutes and virtually impossible in thirty-five (and still have time to mark more than forty books before the end of the period). But I still managed to do it all (although I had to leave off the course outline’s mandate to include “countable and uncountable nouns” — I’ll save that for next week as the topic is more on meals). The head of the English Department only watched the last five minutes or so of the first lesson but she was in the classrooms for the remainder. She was impressed when I drew a number of pictures in each — a cup of coffee, a can of Coca-Cola, an apple, and a sandwich to name a few. I even managed to draw a stick-figure with a necktie to represent me in the last class of the day.
So far, my favorite classroom to teach in is P4/1. It’s a corner room and seemed much cooler than the others. I didn’t sweat near as much as I had on Tuesday or in the first lesson (P4/3) today. The final class, P4/2, didn’t seem very hot either. Lunch was excellent again — yellow curry with chicken, some spicy pork, and soup with large sections of fish. I’m going to have to start taking bottles of water as it’s embarrassing standing at the water cooler as I drink several glasses in a row. Once I can save some money I really want to buy something with the school logo on it — a polo shirt, a backpack, whatever. Before then, I’ll need to discover exactly where the school shop is located. It turns out there are a few more buildings to the school but I haven’t been in those yet. I’m getting good at reading Thai numbers as they aren’t printed in English on the doors. Well, at least I now identify ones, twos, threes, and fours!
After school (finished again at 13:15 — I’m loving this schedule right now) I walked home, took a shower to cool off and then went out into the neighborhood to search for a place to buy some food. I discovered a Thai-style “supermarket” perhaps two minutes away from the building (and I walk fast) where I can buy a variety of sodas in cans or various juices in plastic bottles. There’s some junk food as well, lots of cleaning supplies (with perhaps the largest selection of laundry soap I’ve seen outside of Tesco-Lotus), and vats of red chili peppers and other spices. I didn’t venture too far into the dim interior so there may be all sorts of discoveries yet to be made. On the way back to my apartment I noticed a lady cooking pork satay and bought a few at 5 baht each. Yum! Nearby there’s also a tailor (perhaps I can finally get my work pants legs properly hemmed), a barber right across from my building’s entrance and lots of other small, as yet unknown, businesses. And that’s only the stuff on the side lane — it’s a short walk to a major road (with at least three copy shops and two film processing shops that I noticed today).
Although the apartment building does have wireless internet available, I seem to be on too high of a floor to connect to the transmitter. It’s giving off a very weak signal and repeated attempts to connect have failed. It’s an unsecured connection, however, so I probably wouldn’t have used it much anyway. I think I noticed some computer terminals in the lobby (which is as dim as a cavern — Thais love to conserve energy when they can) but there are plenty of internet cafes nearby if it comes to that. There is a phone jack in my new room but I don’t see any reason to get that connected. I’m going to be in super-saver mode for a while longer, I’m afraid. After I pay off a couple of loans that helped me during my unemployment I plan to put aside enough money for a flight back to the States sometime if an emergency arises. I’d like to feel comfortable enough financially by December so that I can buy myself something nice at that time (a new external hard drive being at the top of my list).