“Arjaan suai,” were the first words out of my student’s mouth. After nearly two weeks behind a desk, I jumped at the opportunity to teach some informal English lessons at a local temple. One other intern, plus two volunteers headed out for a morning working with local kindergarteners. Upon arrival we discovered students between 17 and 22 who probably wouldn’t appreciate the games and songs we had planned. Coping with the unexpected is necessary when living in Thailand. The two volunteers took the well-behaved co-ed group. Kathy, the other intern, and I got the boys engaged in side conversations, and giggling over their blonde farang teachers. Admittedly they might have been laughing at my attempts at clarification in my “survival Thai”. Thai is tonal, and my confused British valley-girl accent doesn’t do tones well, so there are many unfortunate things I could have been saying instead of excuse me.
First, I directed the boys to speak English. “If you’re going to say that, it’s ‘beautiful teacher.'” It is not hard to be beautiful in Thailand when you have blonde hair. Kathy and I spent the morning attempting to get the boys to say English words aloud. However, their desire to appear suave trumped any appeal of practicing English. Teenage boys also don’t tend to take farang teachers seriously, as unlike Thai teachers we will not smack them with a ruler. Two aspiring Casanovas spoke for most the group despite our best efforts to encourage full participation. Most of the morning was spent attempting to explain pluralization and siblings. These are two tough topics for many Thais to grasp. In Thai words are not pluralized. “I have two sister and one brothers” was a common sentence. Also, Thai does not separate siblings by gender, but by age. In English I would say “I have two sisters,” but in Thai “I have two younger.”
Despite the hiccups, the morning teaching was a welcome reprieve from my desk-bound life reading reports and finalizing interview guides. Saturday I start my 10 day tour of local villages to conduct interviews. I will be visiting six villages. Some are on islands, others are among mangroves or on beaches. I will be asking local Thais and Moken about their experiences working in tourism, and what they want for the future. I will also be asking their opinions on the local environment and conservation. My translator Mai just saw our final schedule yesterday. He is already raving about the fresh crab we will get in one village. Life is tough.
Well, maybe a little tough. It is definitely rainy season. Non-stop downpour, puddles (lakes) everywhere, clothing covered in mold, rivers overflowing, nothing ever dries, monsoon season.