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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

What Che Means to My Generation

(Something a little more serious....)

I was perusing the Kindle Store for biographies on Ernesto "Che" Guevara when I across two options. The first appeared to be a more traditional biography. It was highly-reviewed by the Amazon customers, but I wanted to explore my options. In my opinion, personal anecdotes and the subject's writing or correspondence paint a much more vivid portrait of the individual rather than a chronology of their life (David McCullough's John Adams and Charles R. Cross' Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain are the best two biographies I've ever read). The second option had the ominous title Exposing the Real Che Guevara, but was still highly reviewed. I understood that it probably wasn't what I was looking for but I was intrigued and decided to read the product description and the customer reviews anyway.

The author, Humberto Fontava, is a Cuban exile who gathered his research from "scores of interviews with survivors of Che's atrocities as well as the American CIA agent who interrogated Che just hours before the Bolivian government executed him." It's understood that Fontava is writing with an agenda and that is only made clearer by the dubious nature of his primary sources. Fortunately for Fontava, if customer reviews on Amazon are any indication, he has reached his target audience. Overall, the book (currently) has 4 stars out of 5, and the three primary reviews are glowing affairs. It goes without saying that the author and the reviewers are the kind of people who watch Fox News and give me a dirty look when I'm wearing my Che shirt. In the end, however, the choice of which Che biography to buy wasn't particularly difficult; I chose the former and moved on.

Fontava's book is the natural bi-product of a controversial icon like Che Guevara. What neither Fontava nor his readers seem to realize is that no matter how many books are written "exposing" Che Guevara (even if they do actually use legitimate sources) it won't make the slightest dent in Che's status. From an strictly American perspective, we might as well throw out everything that's ever been written about Che. We all know the bare bones history of Che and everything beyond that is simply unnecessary (the irony of writing this after buying his biography is not lost on me). Che has become a cultural icon like Jesus, Kurt Cobain, and George Washington. These individuals are all "above" history and have moved into the realm of myth. Americans don't conjure up images of Guevara ruthlessly shooting pregnant women as Fontava would have us do. We picture his handsome face, with a staunch look of determination firmly ingrained onto it. We see the word "Revolution." We imagine the young men and women overcoming their parents and elders who refuse to see the errors of their ways. That Fontava failed to grasp this, the most basic truth about his subject, is even more damning to his credibility than anything he could ever write or say. What's worse: right now, we need Che the Icon more than ever.

I don't need to inform anyone that the United States is beginning its descent in collapse. The most appalling element of this collapse is the source. As the Vietnam War was winding down in the early 70's, the atmosphere in America must have been mixed parts of elation, hope for the future, and regret for the past. The "baby boomers" were able to pat themselves on the back and feel good knowing that they had helped bring about the end of Vietnam. Through protests, sacrifices, and ant-war messages in music and television, they had forced the government to cave in and withdraw from Vietnam. Yet, it was hard to focus on their triumph knowing the cost. Friends, boyfriends, and brothers had all died. The young generation must have thought to themselves that the best way to honor their loved ones' memories was to ensure that it never happened again. Unfortunately, that sentiment did not last as not thirty years later we find the cycle repeating itself. The bloody quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, Intelligent Design, and the inability to fix Social Security all confirm that history really does repeat itself. It's a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions: our parents have failed us the same way that their parents failed them. Grant Morrison wrote, "Every adult places his hope in the future while simultaneously destroying it." Is it really any wonder that the American middle-class youth have begun clinging to the image of eternall young rebel?

Obviously men such as Humberto Fontava and his readers don't "get" Che Guevara. Che does not represent socialism, he represents the young triumphing over the old. As icons go, he bears more similiarity to James Dean or Holden Caulfield than he does to Karl Marx or Peter Lenin. Che is an image that the young generation can rally behind as we tell our parents that they are wrong. As I stated earlier, we need Che now more than ever.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

No new post, just a bit of news

YouTube is seriously dampening my ability to chose quality (relative term) music. There's something wrong when I can't post whatever music I want on my website. Our society just needs to get over the whole copyright infringement thing; trust me, I live in Thailand, these whole laws-things aren't necessary.

I finally wrapped up my piece on Patthaya. Here's the link. There should be pieces forthcoming on Ko Samet and Ayutthaya, as in whenever I finish them. If you look at the links, you'll notice that I linked my friend Adam's blog (One Night in Bangkok) as well as the blog forum Bangkok Diaries. My friend Rob sent it to me with the added message, "There's a lot of pieces in there about hooking up with and dating Thai basically, right up your alley." I will say that I read a few pieces and found them kind of interesting. It's not limited to relationships though, there's posts on just about anything you can think of in Bangkok (weather, food, culture, etc.). So check it out.

I'm at a loss for what to write about. I'm considering writing a piece on the upper-class Thai's (I'm dating a girl who comes from a wealthy family), but I'm not quite sure yet. When it comes to relationships, I value my privacy; it'd be hard to cover that subject without getting into personal details. If I find a way to circumvent that, then I'll write about it. Otherwise, I'm stuck with writer's block. Take a look at the Patthaya piece (I'm a little bit proud of it), and look for the Ko Samet piece next.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

You Can Take Your "Bust"-Label and Fuck Off

So it's been awhile, but like those herpes you got your freshmen year of college, I'm back with a vengeance. The last couple weeks have been hectic and I've been working on a lot of things, but not succeeding at any of them. I haven't had any sudden fits of inspiration, and while I've gotten suggestions, "Write about Thai food," "Write about Lady-Boys," etc., I have to be inspired before I tackle those. There is some news of interest. The guys at Riding Out the Economy have asked me to write a few guest posts for them on some of the various travel destinations around Thailand. Unlike the crap that I regularly churn out here, this is a chance for me to try my hand at legit travel writing, so I'll be doing things like, uhm, editing (can't say that for this blog...). I'm currently working on pieces on Patthaya, Ko Samet, and Ayutthaya, so whenever I finish them and whenever they're posted, I'll link them. I'm sure people want to hear about my epic adventures over Christmas and New Year's, but those will have to wait until I can figure out a way to block this website from anyone that I may want as a future employer. Gotta protect that resume! Anyway, I going to piss a lot of you off by writing about basketball. There's been a rant that I've been meaning to get out of my system for a while now. Bear with me through the ire.

Anyone who knows me well is aware that I'm a huge basketball fan. However, being me I manage to find a way to turn something as culturally cool and masculine as sports fandom and turn it into something nerdy and borderline effeminate. I follow basketball the nerdiest way possible: not through highlights on SportsCenter, but through the blogs. Even worse, I'll talk your ear off about the aesthetics of basketball (for more of that read Free Darko; until I stumbled across that website 2 years ago I thought I was alone in the universe); I firmly believe that a LeBron James drive to the hoop can be just as aesthetically-pleasing as a Picasso painting or Beethoven symphony. Because of my strange fandom, I have a strong emotional attachment to individuals rather than teams, and especially to rookies. Maybe it's because I'm young myself, or because I love an underdog, or maybe because I sometimes like potential and upside way more than I like actual production, but rookies are always my favorite players. As some of my friends can attest to, I actually like the NBA Draft more than I like the Playoffs. However, much to my irritation, the label "bust" is intrinsically linked to the draft. I'm going to be very frank for a moment: I fucking hate the "bust" label.

I know I've complained about this before, but my anger was fueled when I recently stumbled across Chad Ford's "Biggest Busts of the Decade." Obviously for a draft "expert" such as Ford, this is a obligatory post heading into the next decade. Whatever, I don't really care, except that Jordan Hill was included on the list. In case you didn't know, Hill was drafted this season...y'know....the season that's only halfway over. This isn't limited to Hill. Hasheem Thabeet was labeled a bust the second he was drafted, before he had played a minute of professional basketball. I can't say for sure how long this phenomena has been going on, but it seems like it has gotten progressively worse each season since I've been obsessively following the NBA (I started my serious fandom during my freshman year of college--the '05-'06 season). It used to be that you drafted a player and were pleasantly surprised if they produced in their first few seasons. The best example of this is when the Wizards drafted Kwame Brown with the 1st pick in the 2001, making Brown the first high schooler to be drafted first in the NBA. Yes, Brown has been one of the biggest (sigh...I hate the word) busts of all time, but the Wizards didn't draft him expecting to get a star in his rookie season.

Personally, I'm kind of perplexed by the knee-jerk usage of "bust." I thought GM's and pundits loved pundits and upside? GM's, with the blessing of draft "experts" like Ford, are constantly drafting raw big men like Thabeet and Hill with the hope that they become the next Jermaine O'Neal or Andrew Bynum (FreeDarko calls this MONJO: Myth of the Next Jermaine O'Neal). Bynum was in the league for 3 seasons before he demonstrated any kind of dominance. O'Neal rode the pine for 5 seasons(!) before he became a star. So tell me, where has the patience gone?

You'll here constant justifications for labeling someone a bust early in their career, all of which are bullshit. I'm going to list some of the most common and then break them apart. Enjoy:

[Insert player name] was still available when ['bust'] was drafted

This is probably the most frequent justification for labeling someone a bust. Ford called Hill a bust mainly because the Knicks drafted him when Brandon Jennings was available. In the case of Hill, it wasn't exactly a no-brainer. They needed a point guard and a big man and were clearly infatuated with Stephon Curry. When Curry was drafted one spot of the Knicks' pick, they went with Hill, who was considered by pundits to be the "safe pick," rather than reach for Jennings, who the same pundits didn't even believe to be a lottery-pick. So yeah, after Jennings became the first rookie to drop 50 points since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, it looked like the Knicks made a huge error, but hindsight's 20/20.

There's another glaring flaw in this argument. You're only looking at a small sample of data (in this case, half a season). If Jennings has a career-ending injury tomorrow whereas Hill "only" becomes a productive role-player for the next 10 seasons, Hill has the better career. Further, at this point, Jennings has had more opportunities than Hill has. Jennings is a starter and averaging 34.4 minutes per game. Hill is a garbage-time only player who is averaging a mere 8.7 minutes per game...of course Jennings is going to look better (the minutes played is another argument, which I'll deconstruct shortly).

Everyone admits that drafting is not an exact science. In fact, most GM's will argue that it is the most difficult part of being a GM. When you make the argument that a team should have drafted one player over another, you assuming that all teams are capable of accurately gauging every prospect's talent-level and skills. If you review draft history, you can find All-Stars and future Hall-of-Famers littered throughout the late-1st round and 2nd rounds. These players were not passed over by one GM, but by every GM, sometimes multiple times. No GM has an unblemished drafting record, and a player shouldn't be labeled as a bust because a GM drafted him too early. Especially if said player hasn't been given any opportunity to justify his draft position.

[Player] hasn't gotten any playing time yet because he's a bust and sucks

This is one of the stupidest arguments that you'll hear. When you use this argument, you're assuming that every coach distributes minutes according to talent. This couldn't be further from the truth. The truth is that most coaches don't like rookies. They underestimate their basketball I.Q. and skills, instead relying on less-talented veterans. Coaches tend to be cautious by nature (possibly a result of the lack of job-security) and tend to favor the known, even if it's not quite as good, over the unknown. We consider coaches like Phil Jackson, Greg Poppovich, and Jerry Sloan to be coaching legends, but everyone of these men is famous for his disdain for rookies. Greg Poppovich continually pissed off Spurs fans last season by playing Roger Mason (a shooting guard) or Jacque Vaughn (a fringe NBA player) ahead of George Hill, despite the fact that Hill was clearly the best option as backup point guard. It took 3/4's of a season of terrible play from Smush Parker before Phil Jackson finally replaced with him rookie Jordan Farmar.

In general, coaches are distrustful of young players. Coaches are also notoriously stubborn. Even the most progressive-minded coaches like Mike D'Antoi and Donnie Nelson are reluctant at best to play young players. For a rookie to get serious playing time, several things have to occur: 1) the team has to be horrendous. When a team has no expectations for the current season, a coach can give serious minutes to the rookies and allow them to experience any growing pains, because it's not like the team was going to make the playoffs anyway. 2) There has to be a glaring weakness at that position either from injury or lack of depth, forcing the coach's hand. 3) A rookie has to be so clearly talented and/or popular (i.e. the number 1 pick) that the coach is under heavy pressure to play him. Whether they like it or not, the Clippers have to play Blake Griffin. The Bulls have to play Derrick Rose. The fans would riot if a team has the first overall pick and chains his ass to the bench.

If those conditions aren't met, then no rookie (or even young player) is guaranteed any playing time.

Overall Thoughts and Conclusions

I haven't even begun to cover some of the reasons why a player will struggle during their first few seasons in the league. The ones I didn't cover are so obvious it hurts (just so you know, the way basketball is played in the NBA is nothing like the way it is in the NCAA; not everyone is like Tyreke Evans and able to transition immediately). There's the fact that most of the guys are really still kids (many are just 19 and 20 year-olds) and making a huge adjustment in their lives. I just wanted to deconstruct the "convincing" arguments that jackasses like Ford weld.

I know it would be too much to ask people to drop the "bust"-tag completely, but I have a new rule that I'd like to propose. You are not allowed to label any play a bust until he has completed the duration of his rookie contract (4 seasons). If you don't know, here's how a rookie contract typically works: first round picks are guaranteed a set salary based on their draft position. After two seasons, there is a team option for two more seasons, which is usually picked up. If for some reason, a player's option is not picked up, said player still has two more seasons to prove his team and his doubters wrong. You know, maybe Hill and Thabeet are busts, but we can't say for sure until we are given the chance to see it.

To some, four seasons may seem unreasonably long, but I like to err on the side of caution. Many times, a player needs a new coach, new system, or to be traded before he can prove his worth. In his fourth season, J.J. Reddick has finally shown what kind of player he can be. I know many people have an irrational hatred for Dukies, but I was always rooting for the guy. Hall-of-Famer John Stockton didn't do much until his fourth season, likewise for future Hall-of-Famer Steve Nash, so give these other rookies that same chance. For God's sake, don't be a fucking idiot like Chad Ford and label someone a bust halfway through their rookie season.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The English Competition

Much to Stuart and Kristin's dismay, I got out of class today to attend one of the English competitions in Ayutthaya. Two of my students had been preparing for a couple of weeks, and I had been coaching them, so I was invited to go along.

This is actually the third time there's been an competition since the beginning of the semester. The students are supposed to write (I say "supposed to" because it's usually the teachers who write it) and present a 5-minute essay on a topic given to them. I am continually amazed at how adept Thai's are at memorization--if they were mutants that would be their power--the fact that they are able to memorize a 5 minute speech in another language baffles me; there's no way I could memorize a 5 minute speech in Thai. Regardless, both the students and the teachers take these competitions very seriously. I am continually told to cancel my classes so that I can coach the students in the competition instead. I haven't taught a full lesson to my 4/2's in about a month due to various English competitions. I'm not complaining, I'm just amazed by their prioritization. My best guess is that success in these competitions is a big honor for the the school (Thai's are all about acquiring honor). Anyway, two of my favorite students were participating in this contest: my favorite student and the boy who likes illegally downloading music. Thus, I was very motivated for them to do well and regularly stayed late to help them out.

This morning the group assembled and left for Ayutthaya. In typical Thai-fashion, 8 students were going even though only 4 of them were actually competing. Except for my two M4's everyone else was an M6 (the equivalent of a high school senior). They were all from Kristin's 6/1 class, which, from what I've seen, consists only of lady-boys and their posse of girl friends. They're actually a big deal around campus, kind of like the coolest kids in school that also happen to be the teachers' pets. I don't think I've ever seen them apart, which must be why the rest of them were allowed to come. The bus ride itself was hilarity. The driver got lost multiple times and everyone yelled at him as he weaved through traffic at 120 km/hour. Based on their vocal inflections, I think the lady-boys were having a pretty raunchy conversation, because Ra-Tree (the head of the English Department) would occasionally smack them and they would give her a saucy-sounding response. Then she would laugh because the Thai teachers are just as entertained by the lady-boys as the phrang are.

We finally arrived at the university that was hosting the competition, and all the staffers were amazed at my presence because I was a phrang, but I wasn't one of the judges. From what I gather, all of these competitions have to have at least one phrang judge just to give them a sense of credibility. As I looked around the room, I immediately thought that our students were in trouble. The only male students in the competition were the ones from our school. There's a reason for this: the girls' English always sounds much better than boys' regardless of their level. We had three boys (technically 2 because of the lady-boy) and one girl, so the odds didn't appear to be in our favor.

The event started with a 15 minute advertisement for the university. Ra-Tree told me that the university didn't have a very good reputation and was trying to promote itself through the English competition. First place included a free scholarship to the university, but all our students wrinkled their faces in disgust at this prospect. After this, the judges were introduced. Today Fortune smiled on us: the phrang judge ended up being a FABULOUS actor-turned-English-teacher from New York. The judges were all asked to give a speech, and I was introduced and asked to give a speech because being a phrang meant that I might as well have been judge. One of the Thai judges preceded to spend half-an-hour talking about himself, I guess just because. Here's an important lesson for anyone coming to Thailand: never give a Thai a microphone. Even the shyest, most soft-spoken Thai will suddenly discover their inner Cicero when handed a mic. Finally the competition began.

The students from the other schools seemed to be about the same level as our students. Ra-Tree pointed a group of girls and declared that they had unfairly beat our students at the last competition; clearly, she was set on revenge. The first member of our group to present was our lady-boy. His speech, in my opinion, was the highlight of the competition. Even among lady-boys, this kid is the most outrageous. When Kristin coached him, we both had to cover our mouths in fake contemplation and we couldn't make eye contact or we would lose it. Now, imagine this going on for 5 minutes in complete silence. Even worse, before the competition Ra-Tree had to periodically yell at him because he kept putting on more and more make-up and lipstick; by the time he walked onto stage he was practically a geisha. I can proudly point to the fact that I didn't laugh as a testament to my great willpower. Afterwards, the phrang judge told me that he wanted give him 1st just because he was so adorable. I'd have to agree, but I'd also mention that his English was fairly clear and understandable if someone were to accuse me of bias. Unfortunately, Meen was in the unenviable position of having to follow his show-stopping performance.

Since we had arrived, Meen had been in pretty rough shape. The Speed-style bus ride combined with nervousness (this was her first English competition) had almost given her a panic attack and she had to spend several minutes outside trying to regain her breath. While her pronunciation was good, she was having a lot of difficulty remembering the speech. Although I appeared outwardly calm, I was just as nervous for her. I mean, what teacher wants to see their favorite student publicly humiliated? Ra-Tree tried (unsuccessfully) to calm her down by pointing out that she was the prettiest girl in the room. Ra-Tree then turned to me for affirmation and I confidently nodded. This didn't really work, but I'm glad to say that she went up there and got through it relatively painlessly. She forgot a lot of the speech, but Ra-Tree had to foresight send a copy of the speech with her, and she was able to read off the paper. She took the whole experience in stride and vowed to improve next time. It helped that the two girls who followed her completely bungled their speeches.

Not long after Meen, it was Tae's turn. Tae is an English competition veteran and is basically Ra-Tree's go-to guy. It showed as he confidently spoke for the full 5 minutes, with only the slightest hesitation during one section. I was just as proud of him as I was of Meen. After lunch and some deliberation on the judges' part, the winners were announced. Apparently, our lady-boy's charm was not limited to us as the judges awarded him runner-up. Although he was very surprised, I wasn't at all when Tae's name was called for the winner. For first place he was awarded 3,000 baht (about 100 U.S.) and a scholarship to the university which he'll probably turn down in two year. For second place, our lady-boy was given 2,000 bath which I have no doubt he'll use to buy designer clothes. Overall, it was a great success for Bang Pa-In Raja School, though I may have received a few dirty glances from the other students and teachers; maybe they think having a phrang coach is cheating.

While we waited for the minibus to arrive, I had good conversations with Meen and Tae (half in English, half in Thai). I taught Meen "lady-boy," and she then called Tae a lady-boy about 10 times which he denied profusely. Ra-Tree was quite pleased and said that I made the students feel confident. For my part, I was happy to have to opportunity to go. Tomorrow Stuart and I get to dress up as Santa Claus and parade about the school, so this will be quite the week for me.

Bang Pa-In Raja School: representin'

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Thai Traffic and Fun Things about the Language

Recently I rented a motorbike from my co-worker Stuart. Among ex-pats a motorbike and a Thai girlfriend/boyfriend are the ultimate sign of status; if you have those then everyone takes you seriously. Today I broke up with my girlfriend, so I'm not really sure where I stand, but I'm sure I can regain my street cred quickly enough. Regardless, I still have my motorbike.

Prior to coming to Thailand, I had sort-of, kind-of ridden motorbikes, and after a rough start (I fell over within 10 seconds of driving), I've gotten pretty comfortable on them. Unfortunately, the difficulty in driving comes less from driving and more from the traffic. To be frank, there are no traffic laws in Thailand that I'm aware of. Remember the oft-quoted line from Pirates of the Caribbean, "They're not so much rules as guidelines"? Yeah, that can be applied to Thai land. Because of the English influence, you drive on the left side of the road...except when you feel like driving on the right side. People generally respect stoplights, but there aren't very many of them. There are several major intersections where they have traffic lights, but they are never turned on. As far as I can tell, at these it's simply go when you feel like it. At these I just follow the "safety in numbers" axiom and wait for someone else to go first and ride beside them. Also: to my understanding, there aren't speed limits. So yeah, that's fun.

If there's a benefit to all this stupidity, it's that the Thai's understand the traffic laws as well as I do. What separates me from them is that they're just a lot braver (read that: insane). Thai's, especially the ones on motorbikes, are absolutely fearless. Every culture has its own mental exercise that they like to ponder when they're bored. For example, Germans look at a car and wonder, "How many people can I fit in there?" Thai's see a small space and must think, "I wonder if I can fit a motorbike through there?" Lord knows, they certainly try to squeeze them anywhere and everywhere they can. Their other mental exercise is, "How much can I fit onto a motorbike?" It's quite common to see a whole family of 4 squeezed onto one motorbike...with their shopping bags (apparently, Rob and Oanagh saw one that had their dog with them as well).

Pa Sa Thai: Esoteric

As I've mentioned earlier, I've been studying Thai at night. To say the least, Thai's a funny language. I've mentioned that it's tonal, which makes it damn near impossible for non-Thai's. Essentially, every word has up to five different meanings based on the tones (every word in Thai is one syllable). I can hear tones fairly decently, but I can't really speak them. This is unfortunate because a lot of Thai's are mentally lazy and don't bother trying to figure out what you're saying. For instance, on Saturday Rob, Neil, and I went to this mall Future Park (about halfway between Ayutthaya and Bangkok) to see Avatar. Afterwards, we tried to find a minibus back to Ayutthaya. I asked a Thai, "Minibus Ayutthaya yu tii-nay khab?" ("Where is the Ayutthaya minibus?") She understood everything but Ayutthaya, so she disappeared and came back with someone else. I repeated myself and after scratching his head for 10 seconds, he said, "OH! AyutthaYA!" and pointed to the minibus.

So, I realize my pronunciation wasn't perfect, but to be fair to me, everything was right except for the second syllable of "Ayutthaya." This might have changed the meaning to rhino or something, but the first woman should have been able to figure it out contextually. I mean, three phrang are probably asking for a minibus to Ayutthaya and not your mother's spoon. However, rather than work that out she just grabbed someone else. This especially irritates me because we were really spoiled in Chiang Mai. No matter how badly we butchered Thai, they always understood us in Chiang Mai.

Some other intricacies of the Thai language:

  • There's no actual word(s) for "yes" or "no." Khrab can sometimes function as "yes." Chai ("It is") is often used as "yes," but there's no actual word for it. Instead if someone asks you if you are hungry, Kun Hiu Ma Khab?, you reply Hiu ("Hungry").
  • I mentioned it earlier, but in Thai things are often defined by what they are not. Ma Sa bay dee ("sick") translates to "not well." Mai Khab ("no," kind of) translates to "not yes." The full name of Bangkok takes about a minute-and-a-half for a Thai to say (no joke). Our theory is that it translates to something like, "The city in Thailand that is not Patthaya, not Pai, not Chiang Mai, not Phuket, not that city in the South, etc."
  • One of the highlights of Thai is that it is written exactly how it sounds. This makes it very beneficial to learn to read Thai. So far, I can read about 15 characters (there are 44 total). Hopefully this will help with the tones.
  • Thai's have added tones to many words that they've borrowed from English. Ironically enough, it can be quite frustrating to use English words. Sometimes I'll get a mocha in the mornings. Everytime I say, ao mocha, the cashier shouts back at me, "MochAAA!" Ok, listen for a minute, my country is the home of Starbucks; I'm pretty sure I know how to say mocha, thank you very much.
  • One of the biggest insults in Thai is to call someone kwaai (like "Qui" in "Quiet"), which means buffalo. This means that you are stupid like a buffalo. I have a group of boys in my 4/1 who are obsessed with saying "buffaloes." Right now we're working on environmental slogans. They came up with two gems: 1) "Wear one pair of underwear per 2 days" and 2) "Use less vehicles, use more buffaloes." This is the kind of creativity that I love. One day, I'm going to bring the Bob Marley song "Buffalo Soldier" in and play it for them. It will blow their minds.
  • Ko Tot ("Please," "Excuse me," and "I'm sorry") is kind of similar to Ko Toi ("lady-boy"). I think I accidentally called about 50 people lady-boy during my first three weeks in Thailand.
  • Pronouns are dropped all the time in Thai. This never makes things confusing (/sarcasm).
  • Almost all Thai's giggle incessantly whenever you try to speak Thai. Most of the time I don't really mind, but sometimes when I'm in a foul mood I want to laugh in their face when they try to speak English.

By the way, I feel stupid for not having done this earlier, but two of the guys that were in my TESOL class have a blog that is insanely good. One of them is photographer/filmmaker so he has lots of legit pictures of Thailand (lord knows, I never post any). Check it out. A particular good entry is on the various teaching certifications, which I'm almost afraid to link because it really puts my epic 3 posts on teaching to shame. Then I realized I lost my dignity a long time ago; here it is.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Random Thoughts and Musings

During the week I don't do a lot. Most days, I do any combination of four things when I get home from work: nap, read, bask in the air-con, or hit up an Internet cafe. I brought along the greatest invention ever--my Kindle (the iPod of books for the unenlightened)--thus, I've managed to read quite a bit since coming here. Yesterday, out of boredom, I tallied up everything that I had read since coming and found out that I've read 14 novels. I have the Complete Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Sir Walter Scott (impulse buy) on my Kindle, and have steadily been working my way through each. I'm almost finished with RLS, and just have 3 more of his novels to read (not including short stories, travel writing, and literary essays). Once I read Sense and Sensibility I can say that I've read all of Jane's works. I've also managed to put down 2 collections of essays on the X-Men (I'm fairly confident that I am the entire demographic of the X-Men/Literary Theory industry), a few books on basketball, Dune, The Beach, and The Hobbit. Anyway, I was kind of interested by it.

Last week I noticed a funny thing about male and female phrang in Thailand: the guys tend to speak much, much more Thai than the ladies. I'm not exactly sure why this is, and there are exceptions, but among my classmates, the men's Thai is significantly better than the women's. The other week, I had dinner with Elana and Michelle, who also live in Ayutthaya. I was kind of shocked because they know no Thai outside of Sawadee ("hello"). When we got the bill, I had to ask how much and then translate it for them. I was especially surprised because I learned "how much" (tau rai) and the numbers during my first week, and we've been here 3 months now. I mean I know men's brains are bigger (/end sarcasm), but I figured that they would have picked up more by now. Because I have too much free time on my hands, I come up with theories for phenomenon such as this. My theory: all the male phrang are interested in Thai women, whereas most of the phrang women have no interest in Thai men, giving them less incentive to learn the language. This theory has holes (Kristin's Thai is better than mine, and her boyfriend Tom is with her in Ayutthaya), but I think there may be some truth to it. For my part, I've began studying Thai, and I can't deny that the thought hadn't crossed my mind (to be fair, it's not my primary reason for learning Thai, which is that I don't want to be an asshole American).

Last week, I had a revelation about graduate school. When I originally applied to graduate school, I had no back-up plan if I didn't get accepted or if I didn't get funding. When my schools started to waffle on whether or not I'd get an assistantship, I was scared because I had no other contingency. Fortunately, I stumbled upon this program and was able to say, "Fuck you, I'm going to Thailand" to them. This year is much different. At the end of the semester, I'll have a TESOL certificate that will allow me to teach anywhere in Asia (and parts of Africa and South America). Basically, I have options. At this point, the grad schools that I applied to need me more than I need them, even if they don't know it yet. Not to be immodest, but I'm a good student who can excel in any program. On the other hand, I love living in Thailand: I live very comfortably, the people are in love with me (or with my skin color), and I get to take weekend trips to fabulous beaches and ancient temples; I can honestly say that I could see myself living here for 5 years. Can any graduate program really compete with that? Admittedly, I really want to go to grad school, but if they're being ambiguous about my funding, I can just tell them to screw themselves (I won't actually do that, calm down) and go back to Thailand...or Korea, or China, or Japan. See, where I'm going with this?