Breaking Point (and other updates)

I think I have very nearly reached breaking point. One part of Thai culture I have adopted quite well is the healthy habit of letting things slide along with the not so healthy habit of bottling up the things that do bother me rather than dealing with them. As a result I am cool as the summer breeze until all of the sudden I’m….not.

The rope of sanity began to fray around finals week (first week of October). We have a program to input the grades on excel, but it is all in Thai language and while my reading skills have improved my comprehension is not at technical level so I have no idea what any of it means really. However, with the help of my co-worker Pang I had figured it out and, after multiple restarts due to computer crashes, I had finally nearly finished inputting attendance and grades for all my almost 1,000 students. “You can fail the students,” they told me all semester, “if the student does not come and does not do work you can fail them.” This is new. And exciting! I don’t want to say I am a teacher that enjoys failing my students, but…..sometimes it really is satisfying to see that zero. I probably wouldn’t have understood this until I became a teacher, particularly at a school where the students are boss and they pass no matter what, but it was wickedly delightful to be able to fail a student who put in no effort, never came to class, or disrupted class whenever they did show.

As I said, the fraying began finals week- when I was completing the grades and realizing that this stupid program would NOT in fact let me fail them. It wouldn’t compute.
I ranted. I raved. Pang told me to just jai yen yen (calm down) and I yelled, “No!! I will NOT jai yen yen Pang, this entire system is STUPID!”  I don’t think she knew what to do with me.
A 50 is a pass, and after some experimenting I found that if you give students exactly a 49, it will register as a fail. So I went through each class and took great care to give each failing student a 49. These kids would not pass my class. The next day Pang came to me and, with some trepidation, informed that in a meeting that day they changed the way to input grades and we put the final grade in the wrong page. My sanity frayed a little more.  She showed me, I glowered, I did it their way.

I had already booked a ticket back to Christchurch for a week and I was soooo ready to go. Every year, even every term, the grading system is different. In my two years here the way we do the grades has never once been the same. It is aggravating. On the last day of school, at 3pm, they called a meeting for all the teachers to talk about grades. A few more strands of my sanity snapped and frayed. We went to the meeting and they, on the last day in the last hour before school break, told us that instead of the program we have been using all term we needed to use an online program. Not only did this online program require you to do each grade individually, it was also entirely in Thai. And all the other schools in the area had used this program and finished with the grades already. And my school thought it would be fun to tell us that we needed to do this over break and submit it before school started up again. To top it all off, the vice director was up front explaining everything in Thai, and for some reason the username and password we foreigners were given was not correct so we couldn’t even log in. And nothing was being done about it. And I finally snapped. At this point there are zero f***s given.

In the middle of the meeting I closed my laptop, stood up, and walked out.

I printed the grades and put them on my supervisor’s desk. I left school, left town, left the country. Left the grades to be his problem.

Was this a good thing to do? No probably not. Did it feel good anyway? Oooooh yeah. (And I still have a job!) I have chided and tsk tsk-ed  foreign teachers in the past for walking out without finishing their grades to school standard on their final term but God forgive me, I understand completely now. When you’re done you’re done.

Returning to Christchurch was both awesome and awful for me. I needed the break, but once leaving, my Thailand bubble was popped. I’m not content here anymore. I’m certainly happy, but not content. I remembered that there is a big world out there I need to see, there are so many things I need to do, and I can’t stay in little Buengkan forever; I won’t be satisfied with my life. I needed to be able to talk to friends on more than a basic level, who understand me on a deeper level than the one the language barrier prevents me from reaching with my Thai friends. I didn’t realize how much Christchurch and the people there felt like home to me.

I  also didn’t realize how much of an impact Thai culture had on me when it came to body image. It would be reasonable for me to say that I get called fat here at least once a week. Maybe even more. If I lose a bit of weight some people will say I am thin but later that same day someone else will still call me fat. I thought I was doing a really good job of ignoring it, I think I am doing a really good job of ignoring it to be honest, but when I went back to New Zealand one of the first things my best friend there said to me was, “Holy shit you are thin!” That shocked me, because while I don’t think I am fat by any means I definitely wouldn’t classify myself as thin. I find myself fretting about my little belly bulge more than I used to, and maybe not eating so much in public because I honestly don’t want to deal with another “fat” comment. While I’m mentally strong enough to not let these comments spiral me into a bout of bulimia, it has impacted my confidence in my body more than I thought.

On the bright side, going did pull me out of the rabbit hole long enough to take a deep breath and clear my head. I have come back to Thailand feeling much less jaded and ready to make the most of my time here. Enjoy the love these lil kiddos shower me with and do my best to suffer through the administrative nightmare of my final term at Buengkan School. Soak it all in and love the heck out of everything I can about this beautiful place before it is time to venture off into the great big world again.

Advertisements

When You Bring a Gun to School…

(This post will tangent a bit so if you are not prepared for a lengthy somewhat rambling read I would skip to the next post.)

Today in one of my M2 classes (about 8th grade, or 13-14 years old, for reference) I turned around to shush the noisy class when I saw, in the corner of the room, one of the boys brandishing a gun. I registered this with sudden horror and they tried to hide it as soon as they realized I saw it. I quickly walked over and saw, much to my relief, that it was only a black airsoft gun. Lesson in the importance of wearing my contacts? Mayyyybe. But it did look realistic.

I held out my hand, “Give it to me.” These two kids, I love them but sometimes they really are infuriating, tried to pass the gun from one desk to the next without me seeing and held out their hands and pretended to look confused like but I don’t have anything…I repeated, “Give. me. the gun. Now.” and the boy finally realized I wasn’t messing and handed it over. But not before showing me it was empty by pointing it at his face and pulling the trigger. (Never mind that it wasn’t a real gun at this point the last thing I needed was for someone to lose an eyeball) I was infuriated on multiple levels; the most basic for the disruption of class and working it’s way up to the perceived pure stupidity of bringing any sort of gun to school. I didn’t give the gun back after class like I normally do when I take their phones, and instead took it back to the office.

Once I got back to the office I brought it to the Thai teachers and asked them what to do about it. The homeroom teacher ultimately decided to talk to him tomorrow after class and suggested that maybe I should cut his grade as punishment.

….what. That’s it?

Yeah, that’s it. Admittedly I was at first totally mind blown. But I sat at my desk and thought about it for a bit. You know what I concluded? That’s it and for now that’s ok. That’s enough. I’m not in America. Sure Thailand is far from perfect; there’s unrest in the south, military coups and the recent Erawan Shrine bombing, and yes, there have been school shootings here. That being said Thailand does not have the same recurring problem that America seems to have with school shootings. Not yet at least, and definitely not the same caliber of damage. This boy is 13 years old. He was messing around with his friends. He has friends to mess around with. He lives in a different world than the American student who has to walk through metal detectors each day before sitting down to learn. He is spared in his innocence. I posted about this incident on facebook remarking that this is how I know I am no longer in America and a friend replied “it’s an innocent kid, and you know you are not in America when he waves the gun in the class instead of shooting 25 kids! ” How true and sad that is. Should he have brought it to school? No, that probably wasn’t the best idea. But this is one of the few times I will applaud this school’s actions (and here is where the tangent begins, you have been warned).

Imagine if a 13 year old kid did this same thing in America. He would be expelled, police would be involved, he would be slapped across the headlines and his life would never be the same. But…the attention! Imagine a kid feeing lost, alone, bullied, has family troubles, take your pick. He see’s the attention this kid gets from the media and the world and thinks, Hey, I could get attention too. That would show them. If you google “Thailand school shootings” you will get few hits. The most notable seeming to be a school shooting at Pak Phanang School in 2003. I have only found a Wikipedia post about it, in which the former Prime Minister Thaksin was quoted as calling this incident a “deplorable emulation of an example set in western countries”. Is this part of Thailand’s save face attitude and an attempt to deflect negative attention? Maybe. But there is definitely more than a grain of truth in that statement. What sort of attention did this 17 year old shooter get? Honestly, in comparison to shooters in America, not much.

Here’s an experiment to try out: google Pak Phanang school shooting. Now google Columbine school shooting. The Columbine shootings, which occurred four years before the Thai school shooting, is still making news. Let’s talk about glorification. You can find articles upon articles of the shooters; who they were, why they did it, what was their motive, how many people they killed, etc etc etc. They may be gone but their legacy lives on. A quote I found while trying to find out more about Thailand school shootings claims, “Not unlike the adoption of American consumer products (e.g. Coca Cola, McDonalds, and KFC) and film and music popular culture, disaffected individuals in other lands have taken their inspiration for mass murder from highly publicized American incidents.” (Madfis and Levin, School Rampage in International Perspective: The Salience of Cumulative Strain Theory)

The problem in America is the result of a snowball effect propelled by the media. Gun laws are not the problem. Lack of campus safety is not the problem. Bullying contributes to the problem, mental illness contributes to the problem, family struggles contribute to the problem, and the media pushes the problem forward with full force. The media highlights the problem, it glorifies the problem, it invites the problem to become an  epidemic. I have known this before now, it’s a fairly glaring fact. However I have not seen this applied so clearly in real life applications until living abroad.

I think of my student and I don’t ever want him to have to go to school in fear, or to live in a world of such shattered innocence. I know it’s natural to feel so much pain you want to the world to know of the injustice caused to your family and community. I know it’s natural to yearn for sympathy and support. The media grabs this and runs with it. I’m not saying those in media are evil and mean to perpetuate violence, but by showcasing these tortured souls who acted out in such a horrible way only sends a message to others struggling with the same issues. When reporting these types of incidences focus on the victims. Focus on the heartache and the sorrow. Stop focusing on the perpetrators; stop focusing on their actions, their motives, their history, their lives. Stop giving them the power. It’s not only America that is watching, the rest of the world is tuning in as well.

Kids Say the Darndest Things

The other day I was giving some of my students a speaking test for adverbs of frequency. As a joke I asked them if they ever picked their nose. The results were somewhat unexpected; as a ten year old girl I would have told my teacher “No! I never pick my nose!” Instead the responses I got from these five girls were surprisingly honest:
“……always!” (after peals of laughter from me) “Teacherrrr……in my room! Nobody sees! ….Teacher!!”
“….I usually pick my nose…”
“*giggles*…sometimes.”
“yes?”
“Oh…always.” (no shame here haha)

One of my favorite kinds of assignments are the ones where my students have to/get to draw. It makes the assignment more entertaining for them and grading more entertaining for me! I just did a preposition practice assignment (draw a buffalo next to the tree. Draw yourself on the buffalo. etc etc) The results were everything I had hoped for.                                                                          Angry birds….20150827_133632
20150826_091045….and an angry koala buffalo?

And this buffalo and snake are equally unsure about each other.

20150826_091656

I know some child psychology theories focus on the idea that a child’s behavior, development, perception of things, family life, ect can be elicited from drawings that they do. After doing assignments like this for two years and teaching these kids I would love to learn more about that  because some of these kiddos….well their drawings are very expressive and creative.

A more recent assignment I did was to have them draw their family. I drew mine on the board and labeled the members of my family and asked them to do the same for their family. Most kids understood that, but a couple of them decided instead to draw their own creative interpretations of my family:

20150910_100401To be honest I think my mom probably suffers most in both of these drawings….sorry Mom 😛

Are you ready for this one? This one had my co-workers in fits when they saw it….
20150910_095403“My” face…

20150910_095723

Joy Doesn’t Have a Pricetag

Thailand’s idea of success and self-worth seems to be primarily, if not completely, all based on physical appearance. Are you skinny enough? White enough? Is your nose straight enough? If there is one thing I have learned while traveling, it’s (and I know this is a generalization) that nobody seems to be happy with what they were born with.

Think about it…people in America and Europe will willingly place themselves in a radiated heat box just buzzing with skin cancer potential simply to achieve what advertisers spoon feed us is the epitome of beauty- that “perfect tan”. While we westerners pack ourselves snugly into tanning beds and expose ourselves to harmful UV rays in the name of vanity, Thai’s are doing the polar opposite to avoid darker skin. There are countless skin products here with whitening agents, as well as whitening injections, and you will see Thai people wearing sweatshirts or sleeves in the middle of the blazing summer heat just to avoid the sun. I can’t help but laugh as my Thai friends throw their jackets over their heads and run for the shade as if they are Dracula and the sun will literally kill them. 🙂

It’s no laughing matter though, how deeply engrained in their culture it is to hate black skin. This is the start of a very popular story here in Issan:

Once upon a time, there was a boy named ‘Kam’. It means dark. He was very ugly and had very rough and dark skin. His appearance looked like a monkey. No one was interested in him because of his ugliness.”

If your jaw just hit the floor, don’t worry; mine did too when I first read it. This isn’t even a left-field story, it is a very. popular. story. Talk about the sickening effects of successful marketing; this story reflects the mindset of the people. Nearly every ad, every show, every movie has mixed race Thai’s, most if not all with paler skin. White is in. Having darker skin, the skin Asians are born with that we pale people such as myself are quite literally killing ourselves for, is not mildly unattractive but seemingly repulsive. And they are becoming unraveled over the fact they don’t have that same white skin we are scowling at in our mirrors every day.

My nose is apparently something to be revered in this country. I was shocked when the first person admired my nose, said it was so big, and asked if it was real or not. My hand shot up to my face as I thought oh my gosh is my nose really that big? Wait why wouldn’t it be real?  I apparently have a long, very straight nose, which is considered  beautiful here. So beautiful, in fact, that it is quite common for people to go and buy themselves a new nose. I was shocked by the amount of facial reconstructive surgery that happens in Thailand.

I was talking with a fellow Thai teacher at school and we took a picture together. He pointed out my wrinkles on my forehead and I asked if he could make them too, he replied with, “Not anymore.” I probed a bit and he said he had most of his face worked on. He showed me a picture of himself before all the surgery and said, “So ugly, na?” I looked from the picture to him and back again. “You weren’t ugly,” I exclaimed, “but you aren’t even the same person!” He told me he started surgeries when he was 14 years old. Shocked, I questioned him about legality and parental consent and he told me that yes, his parents allowed it and went with him to get work done. He pointed to the crowd of students and told me that some of them have probably already started.

Aghast, I looked at my students’ sweet, tiny little not yet even fully developed faces. I think a lot of people don’t get work done until they are probably eighteen or older but fourteen years old..that puts these kids in about 9th grade back in the States. Not even out of junior high yet and getting facial reconstruction surgery done. I wanted to cry. I wanted to slap their parents for promoting such a devastating self-image, for letting their child think that they were somehow damaged. I wanted to hug them and tell them they are perfect just the way they are.

I used to -and still do, we all do- look at pictures of myself and occasionally think UGH. Someone manages to capture a side profile shot and I’ll cringe because for some reason I just hate everything about it, every time. I’ll see how small my eyes get when I smile. I look at my appaling tan lines or shockingly stark white skin and think how much better I would look if I were just a little bit less ghost-like. I’ll inspect my face in the mirror and curse my mother for giving me those baggy eyes.

But then I’ll look again and realize just that; I see my mom staring back at me. I smile and my dad smiles back.

I can’t even imagine looking in the mirror and not seeing them, not seeing me. I don’t know how I would feel if I ran into family friends and they no longer proclaimed at first glance, “Yep, you are definitely a Hughes.” Your face is part of a beautifully crafted novel of who you are, where you come from, and where you’ve been. Every curve has meaning, every scar tells a story, and every wrinkle holds memories I never want to forget.

This is something that, until quite recently actually, I was never able to really comprehend. Even if someone had told me this at twenty I wouldn’t have been able to fully appreciate it. I think this is the sort of wisdom that only comes with age. Rather than beat ourselves up over someone else’s definition of “beauty” I think we need to change the status quo- we need to find joy in who we are, in embracing our “flaws” instead of trying to abolish them. You can try to buy happiness, but true joy in life comes from accepting and appreciating who you ARE and not who you want to be. The more I’ve experienced, the more this becomes a reality for me, and I know no amount of money could pay for the joy you find in life once you stop believing happiness stems from physical perfection.

A Day in Bullets

 

*Wake up. Chop up some mangos, pineapple, and dragonfruit for breakfast. (Must do at home because I like to suck the remaining fruit off the mango seed while juice drips pretty much everywhere and it looks rather undignified.)

* Walk across the street to school. Make my necessary cup of coffee and get ready for the day.

*Go to morning assembly and spend the 15-20 minutes wondering what the heck they are saying. Distract myself by counting the number of students who are sleeping.

*Go to my first class…not feeling quite awake enough yet to deal with 50 thirteen year olds. Tao takes my bag and carries it in for me as Fern grabs my hand and walks with me. They really are cute sometimes. (ok most of the time.)

*Get tickle attacked as I write on the board by Mas. Almost a daily occurance after one of them discovered this particular weakness of mine.

*Go to my next class. 10 minutes in I tell Jo I will throw him out the window if he does not stop talking. He understands after I act it out.

*Teach parts of the body. Place my hand on my chest and say “chest.” Potay pipes up with “nome!”(Thai word meaning milk..also what they call boobs). Chided him and wondered how I survived my first term before I learned any Thai (blissfully ignorant I think.)

*Eat lunch with some of my students. We have som tam (spicy papaya salad) and rice.

Screenshot_2014-07-08-08-50-37-1*Hop on my teacher facebook and find a message from one of my M6 (17-18yr old) students. He asked what the meaning of this picture was and after concluding he was genuine I doubled over laughing while thinking of a way to explain “invasive”, “skinny dipper” and “testacles”. He said he found it on “a website of science.” Oh the joys of teaching.

*Finally go home, shower, and go for a run in the park.

*Grab dinner and visit some friends. See another one of my M6 students who asked me what “Oh gee, Mama” meant. I had no idea. Boat cracked up because he thought she said “orgy”….and then I had to explain what an orgy is. It was an eventful day for translations.

*Practice some Thai, curl into bed and fall asleep while reading Game of Thrones.

Positive Influence

Last term some of my matyom 1 classes (also known as seventh graders) were a teensy bit ridiculously loud. I tried my sovereign best to keep them quiet but sometimes “Quiet!!” just wasn’t enough.

These classes have since been passed on to Emma as they are now in M2, and she is having the same problems. So the other day in class Emma, exasperated, commanded in a frustrated tone to please just stop talking and a student pipes up, “Do you mean shut your mouth?” Emma looked at the child before asking, “Did you have Teacher Kayla last year?”

She told me she could just hear me saying those words in the way he said them. Hahahaha day made and a lesson learned…they really do listen sometimes! 😉

 

20140610_114901

(See? They still like me. 4 of the good students from the loudest class of last year!)