2016: My Year in Review and a Look Forward to 2017

I will long remember the year past as one of death. While nobody from my family or circle of friends died in 2016, a number of favorite musicians and actors did. I was also profoundly affected by the mid-October passing of the King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej. Over the decade-plus that I’ve lived in Phuket, I’ve become a staunch Royalist and the death of His Majesty came in the midst of my annual courses with Thai bank staff members. Seeing their sadness, as well as the intense mourning that occurred throughout the nation, deeply effected me and I continue to feel a bond with Thai people that is difficult to describe to other foreigners.

As 2017 dawns, I pray that it will be a year of much happiness and light after the darkness that pervaded much of 2016. Don’t misunderstand me: there were quite a few good times and the year is certainly ending on a high note in that I’m in my first “real” relationship in around six or seven years.

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I will also remember the past year for the vast variety of courses I taught. As deputy head teacher for a large teaching agency (we provide teachers to numerous government-run schools throughout the province), I wear many administrative hats but I still need to teach a set number of hours per month. These include English Camps and Activity Days we conduct around Phuket and neighboring provinces (memorable trips in 2016 included stays at resorts in Khao Lak and Krabi).

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I started the year substitute-teaching mainly secondary school levels (in the Thai system, Mathyom 1, 2 and 3 correspond roughly with junior high school grades back in the United States) with a few lower primary (Prathom) and kindergarten (Anuban) classes thrown into the mix.

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By mid-year, I taught almost exclusively adult learners: a small group of bankers from Siam Commercial Bank, administrative staff at the Phuket Secondary Education Department, various individuals hailing from countries such as the Ukraine and South Korea in addition to Thailand, and nearly four months teaching just over 30 tellers and CSR’s from Krungsri Bank.

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It all came full-circle when I spent the last week of the year substitute teaching in two different schools — children from two levels of kindergarten (A2 and A3), lower primary levels (P1, P2, P3, and P4), and a secondary level (M2).

It was a year of eating as well. I gained some weight but started to shed the pounds after starting a fierce diet around the time of my birthday in early December. The best thing about our English Camps is that you tend to be fed quite well. I also found a couple of fellow foodie friends who were willing to tour the island in search of interesting new places to try. I found a few really good burgers but good Mexican food has remained elusive on Phuket (although, there are a couple of new places I have yet to dine at!).
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One of the advantages of teaching in the school is that you often get a free lunch, much of which is quite good! (It IS rather difficult to find BAD Thai food.) An advantage of teaching adult students is that they often want to take the teacher out for a meal! This year’s Krungsri Bank students were particularly willing to dine out on several occasions.

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The director of my school even treated me to a couple of formal meals with him, his family, and a few other select members of our staff.

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We hosted a very memorable birthday in one of my classes and the last couple of group meals served as celebrations of my own birthday in addition to the end of the courses.

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At Christmastime, I reciprocated by distributing big boxes full of personalized goodies to a select few friends and students. This year, the usual handmade cards, tasty snacks, coffee, etc. were joined by a variety of memorial items designed to honor His Majesty the King. I think I had more fun creating the gifts this year than ever before.

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I got out to see a great deal of Phuket over the course of the year. I attended most of the big local festivals — Chinese New Year, Old Town Festival, the preparations for the Battle of Thalang commemoration, the first-ever Phuket Hot Air Balloon Festival, and more. However, this was the first time in many years that I did not attend any of the nine-day Vegetarian Festival (although I did eat vegetarian for the entire period once again).

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I continued with my various hobbies as well, although my leisure reading took a significant dip in 2016. I only managed to finish 29 books this year. Compare that to 41 books finished in 2015 and 119 (!!) in 2010, the first year I began tracking my reading activities. I also fell off my six-and-a-half year reading streak with the death of His Majesty in October; I didn’t pick up another book for some two weeks following his passing. The stats over the past seven years are still impressive (to me, at least): 449 books finished since January 1, 2010, and over 121,000 pages read.

I mailed and received many more postcards in 2016 than ever before with many “first-time” countries. I received my first postcards from the continents of South America and Africa and have almost completed the map of Europe. The reason for the jump in my card activities during the second half of the year was that I joined a great number of trading groups on Facebook to supplement my membership in Postcrossing.

While I didn’t add as many stamps to my collection as in 2015, I started a new blog called A Stamp A Day and I have posted at least one new entry every single day since July 1, 2016. My other stamp blog, Philatelic Pursuits, has been in limbo since October (as had this one before I started writing this year-end entry!). My postcard blog sees spurts of activity when I’m properly motivated. I did change the name around mid-year: from “Please, Mr. Postman!” to The POSTCARD TRAVELLER Blog as I’ve been (slowly) designing a proper website with that name.

What will 2017 bring?

I am just taking each day one at a time. At Christmas, a good friend and I decided to “move forward” into a more romantic relationship. I’ve known her for quite a while so this is a nice change after considering myself single for many years. My friends and family have been supportive but I’m still taking it slowly (as is she). There’s really no rush.

I still hold my job as deputy head teacher for a large language school/teachers’ agency in Phuket, although I suffered a serious loss of motivation and rise in frustration just under a month ago. That period of burn-out has largely dissipated, fueled by a wonderful last week of the year which did wonders to restore my faith in the Thai school system. To hear other teachers express similar sentiments made my views even stronger. As is often the case in Thailand, you never know what will happen. The schools will always provide work, of course. But it can be a long wait for new private students (customers) to take up the slack. As a result, it is virtually impossible to schedule holiday trips because once you book a flight or something, suddenly you have classes you can’t cancel and more work than you think you want.

I’ve stopped making New Years Resolutions as I never keep them for long. My real wish for 2017 is that I can maintain the momentum I had throughout most of 2016 and almost lost at the start of December. I want to remain healthy, happy, and involved. I have a nice group of friends whom I care about and a special lady whom has my heart. What more can I ask for?

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Author: Mark Jochim

I'm an American currently living and teaching English in Phuket, Thailand. I like to read, write, take photographs, and collect stamps. You can read about all of these things and more on my three blogs: Asian Meanderings, https://jochim.wordpress.com "Please, Mr. Postman!", http://markspostcards.wordpress.com Philatelic Pursuits, http://philatelicpursuits.wordpress.com . Cheers!

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