What a difference a week makes! Last week at this time I still hadn’t worked in six months and had just left my apartment of two-and-a-half years — a home without reliable running water or electricity located right on a very busy (and noisy at all hours) main road in the center of Phuket. The area was extremely built-up (but a very long walk from all-night convenience stores such as 7-Eleven) and could have been anywhere in the West but for the lack of creature comforts.
Just a week later and I’ve returned to the world of teaching and have a wonderful, albeit quite small, apartment in a portion of Phuket I’ve always liked. While on the fringes of the downtown area, my new home is actually on a sleepy soi (small side lane) amidst older buildings and plenty of greenery. I truly feel like I’m living in the “real Thailand” for the first time since arriving on Phuket. It’s an area of tiny home businesses to provide food and laundry services amongst the close-knit community, an area where I seem to be the only somewhat pale person who doesn’t require the use of whitening cremes! It’s a place where — if I lived closer to ground level — I would be wakened each morning by the numerous chickens shuffling about, chickens whom I sure eventually make it onto the tray of barbecued birds being sold from the stand on the opposite side of the building.
I’m happy and content, the only (minor) worries being a wonder as to how long the process will be for my work permit and Non-Immigrant (B) visa. I’ll probably have to make one more visa run before those come through but that’s just fine with me as I’ve come to really like Penang as well. My new school is great — again, I’m the only farang on campus and I’m still mobbed by the kids wherever I go. In fact, at the end of my last lesson with the second graders Friday I had difficulty getting out of the classroom because all of the kids grabbed a hold of my arms and legs as they didn’t want me to go! And I do believe that each of the three meals I had in the staff dining area last week was better than almost anything served by my old school in the four years I endured their canteen.
Outside of my teaching hours (and it is a fairly light schedule right now) I have plenty of time to get out-and-about. Where my old apartment was on an extremely busy street not conducive to walking even had there been anything worth walking to, my new one is very close to all sorts of cool places to visit. From historic buildings, fascinating museums, quiet places of worship, pleasant parks, and quirky art galleries to a large variety of shops and restaurants there’s always someplace nearby inviting an initial exploration and a welcoming return. A great bonus for a bookworm such as myself is that I keep stumbling across bookshops — there’s Southwind Books and the nearby Southwind Used Books, The Books, Seng Ho, Bo(ok)hemian, and many of the local cafes have books for sale or exchange. Too bad I don’t have any extra cash for purchases right now but that doesn’t stop me from browsing…
As I slowly move in (most of my boxes of stuff remain in storage at a friend’s apartment) I’m enjoying spending my evenings at home — I do most of my exploring in the afternoons, picking up some juice or sodas in a nearby market, before settling in at night. I have an actual desk to do my writing upon, rather than the food tray table utilized while laying in bed in my old setup. I can’t wait to buy some more “tree” books as I have a small balcony which I can sit on to read them. As it is, I bought a plastic chair a couple of nights ago so that I could sit at the desk for longer periods of time (the apartment came with a stool but I do need back support!). This is what I used to read all of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard Of Oz over the past few evenings. I’d only seen the movie before so I was somewhat surprised (and disappointed) to find that such beloved story elements as the ruby slippers and “There’s no place like home” were MGM additions not present in the original children’s book. The edition which I read — a Barnes & Noble ebook — included a 30-page introductory essay and a number of annotations which always makes any work more enjoyable to read. In fact, I liked it so much I’m thinking about reading more of Baum’s Oz series books.
How do you rekindle a friendship with somebody you haven’t seen for thirty-five years or more? By catching up through Facebook, of course! That’s just what I’m doing right now; while the initial contact (by the other party) was through Facebook, their messaging system failed me with a bounce-back so we’re doing the email thing. This was perhaps the very first of my childhood friends, met when we lived in Garland, Texas, a bedroom community outside of Dallas from which my family moved around 1972. His sister was closer to my age and he was about the same age as my sister. We were all great pals for a time but because my family moved quite often over the next five years or so I’d completely lost contact. Perhaps twenty years ago I’d exchanged letters with his sister for a short while (by actual snail-mail, probably my last correspondence of this sort) but again lost touch. My memory certainly isn’t what it used to be but when this friend from the past mentioned he’d written a short story about my mother the title he gave it brought a flood of remembrances to the forefront. I’m looking forward to reading his story as I know my mom sparked a lot of inspiration amongst my sister’s and my friends. So many of them were extremely saddened by her death, the tenth anniversary of which is coming up at the end of August.
The elections here in Thailand are finally over — and the feared farang riots over the weekend alcohol bans failed to materialize. Now that controversal former prime minister Shinawatra Thaskin’s sister holds the top spot in the government (Thailand’s first female PM), I hope that one of her first actions will be to order the removal of the ugly election signs still lining every roadway in the Kingdom. It’s hard enough to see the trees as it is.
Phuket’s own newly victorious Democrats are wasting no time at throwing in their own stupid legislation. I was quite amused by an article in the Gazette a few days ago where the chief of the Phuket Land Transport Office announced that riders of motorbikes with sidecars (salaeng) will be prosecuted if they use the sidecar to carry passengers. Um, in many parts of the island these are more common modes of transportation than tuk-tuks or songteaw. If the sidecar portion doesn’t have a food-stall attachment or something else crowded into the space, there’s invariably a few people riding while sitting on the railing. I’ve seen a number with chairs installed specifically to carry passengers (a few of these with cloth or metal coverings). During the first two or three years I lived on Phuket we owned a salaeng which was fitted with a small chair and large ice chest — I enjoyed taking street photos while sitting in the sidecar as my ex-wife zoomed about Phuket. I can’t see this proposed law being too forcibly enforced — perhaps a better idea would be to fine sidecar passengers if they aren’t wearing a helmet. Phuket is supposed to be the model province for the stricter helmet laws and yet I still see the majority of motorbike riders and passengers not wearing them (unless approaching a police checkpoint but then the police usually wave most of the non-helmet-wearers through anyway!).
Much more interesting was another recent Gazette article stating that Phuket has some of the brightest kids in all of Thailand. In the first national survey of it’s kind, it was determined that Phuket was among only fourteen out of the Kingdom’s seventy-eight provinces where students had a combined average IQ score above 100. I believe The Nation said that educators were lamenting the fact that the majority of kids on this survey had an IQ of far less than 90.
That’s really all I have to write about this afternoon. Have a great week!