Yes, I’m still in Phuket, Thailand. Still teaching English. Still collecting stamps and postcards. Still reading as much as I have time for. Still healthy. Still single. It my be a new year, but life continues at the same relaxing and stress-free pace that keeps me rooted in the “Land of Smiles.”
I cannot believe that I haven’t written an entry for this, my “flagship” blog, in nearly four months! Much of the blame rests with my own laziness or, perhaps, I have become too accustomed to what I previously called the “strangeness” of Thailand and don’t feel as compelled to write about “everyday” occurrences.
True, my daily routine has become a repetitive cycle of going to work, going home, while reading a bit and eating something along the way. It also includes writing each and every day, most of that being for my year-and-a-half old blog A Stamp A Day (ASAD) for which I have amassed 580 entries (not missing a single day since July 1, 2016!). The research and compilation of articles for ASAD takes away much of my free-time energy and my other blogs have suffered as a result.
This entry serves as a bit of an update (but only of the month just past) as well as a glimpse forward.
New Year’s Eve fell on a Sunday which is the usual day for the Old Town to shut down it’s main commercial street to all but pedestrian traffic for it’s weekly Walking Street (known locally as Lard Yai). I wandered the brief distance from my home for a bite to eat from one of my favorite street-food vendors to find the place even more packed than usual. This year, it was the center of the Countdown activities for Phuket Town complete with a large concert stage and plenty of midnight fireworks. A nice start to the year and the month.
Perhaps the most interesting book I’ve read recently was Shaun Bythell’s The Diary of a Bookseller, an account of the day-to-day “adventures” of selling (or not selling, as the case often is) books to the locals and tourists who visits the author’s shop in Wigtown, Scotland. The ways in which Bythell describes the physical and mental appearance of, and comments made by, his customers and co-workers is often unflattering but can be appreciated by anybody who has had to deal with the public in such a retail environment. I often related to his experiences due to my background in restaurant management and realized that there were parallels to my current life as well..
In fact, I am sufficiently inspired by Bythell’s work to attempt something similar. I doubt that anybody would purchase something called The Diary of an Expat or Adventures Teaching in Thailand (for which I love the subtitle, “Part of My Life”) but I think I can use material in this vein for future blog entries. January is a good time to start things like this; unfortunately, I cannot recall any humorous (or odd) incidents from the past month! Thus, my belated New Year’s resolution should be: “Write stuff down!”
I am accumulating a number of humorous photos on the theme of “This Is Thailand” (TIT) and will share those from time to time. Some of the things I see and hear render such sightings as giant felt elephants in the shopping mall as a bit “ho-hum” (it was National Children’s Day, after all). Even better was last month’s giant Santa head (no body) flanked by a pair of giant hands for kids to sit upon; alas, I failed to take a picture!
It HAS been an interesting month, however! It was a light month, teaching-wise (but not as slow as December was), but more enriching than any other in recent memory — surpassed only, perhaps, by my annual courses with local bank staff. I started the year off with two weeks of daily two-hour classes with a newly-graduated emergency room doctor during which we went through a myriad of medical procedures, terminology and vocabulary with an emphasis on explaining diagnoses and prognoses in easily-understood English to patients, family members and foreign colleagues. It was quite an education for me as I spent each night studying anatomy and medicine to prepare for our conversations.
Much easier, but even more intense, was a week that I spent “embedded” with the Royal Thai Navy teaching them basic English conversational skills for six hours per day (one hour for lunch at noon). The setting ranks as the best location I have ever taught at: a conference hall at the Third Naval Area Command Headquarters high atop the south-easternmost point of Phuket; the view out the full-length windows overlook the beautiful bays and islets towards the south and east, dotted with sailboats and other small watercraft as well as the occasional RTN patrol boat. The officers and men I taught were unfailingly enthusiastic and I count them amongst my all-time favorite students (bettered only by my bank staff students on purely aesthetic reasons).
Sometimes, I cannot believe that they pay me to work in such places! I’m ready to enlist…
As always, I rely on the local forms of transportation (and the occasional kindness of Thai people) to get to the places I need to go. Most of the time, that means the “pink bus” (Porthong in the local vernacular) which has four routes covering Phuket Town or, for the beaches and other far-flung areas, the ubiquitous Thai songteaw. These can range size from a tiny Toyota pickup truck with covered benches in the cargo compartment on up to full-size buses for the Patong or Kata/Karon routes but are always blue in color, some all steel but most with wooden passenger compartments. Porthong cost 15 baht per ride while songteaw are usually 30-40 baht but can be as high as 60 baht if you are the sole passenger. These represent Phuket’s “public transportation system” along with motorbike taxis (generally corrupt with the highest rates in all of Thailand) and the Airport Bus which I used to be a big fan of until discovering that Bangkok’s official Airport Bus service takes you at least three times the distance for half the cost. Most foreigners seem to avoid the local buses but those that do venture aboard are the source of most of the amusing incidents I observe. I need to start writing stuff down!
Apart from working, writing daily ASAD blog entries and reading more than 2600 pages (finishing four books — a much better start to the year than in 2016!), my main activity in January was adding to my stamp collection. Mostly, this consisted of waiting for the mail to be delivered as I’d spent some time on eBay during Christmas weekend and often the envelopes containing my orders were covered with even more stamps. I’m also still enjoying my new tablet which was my holiday gift to myself; it’s a dual-boot device — installed with both Android and Windows 10 — so I can use all my favorite apps and programs to do whatever I want to. It is so nice to be “productive” once again after a couple of months using a borrowed PC at work after my old laptop succumbed to the “Thailand curse” that inevitably and prematurely shortens the lifespan of all things, no matter how robust (non-Thai people, too!). I love my Chuwi Hi10 Pro; it has become even more of a right (or left, as the case may be) arm than any other piece of electronics I’ve owned in recent memory.
Armed with this tablet, and loads of fresh inspiration, I don’t plan to let another four months go by without adding something to this blog. Meandering is much better than silence!
Happy New Year, February!