Sunday, October 29, 2006

Crime and safety

No I have not left the country, or lost interest. I've had a rare thing known as a holiday, and well deserved it was too.

I start work next week in my new job. I've discovered I'll be teaching kindergarten kids, which is not my idea of full time work. Still, with everything I've been through work -wise in the last few weeks, I just want to get my head down and stay out of hassle for a while.

My old blog was actually getting popular. My new one is still a secret. If you know anyone or any site that might like some inside information on living in Thailand, please let them know about me!

Crime in Thailand

People planning to visit Thailand for the first time often ask me "Is it safe?" "What about malaria?" "Is there a lot of crime?". It's not an easy set of questions to answer. My usual response to the malaria thing is to point out there is far more chance of being hit by a car in Thailand than catching malaria. It's the fear of disease that gets the amount of risk distorted to people.

As for crime, well like any capital city , Bangkok has its share. The good news is that most crime is non confrontational due to the Thai psyche. You are a lot more at risk of having your wallet swiped that being assaulted. The yobs , or hoodlums or mall rats as they are known in the west are different in Thailand. They dress in a way that they see as rebellious but would have them laughed out of any western gang. I'll try and get some pictures for this. In general, they cause a lot less unrest. One of the best day to day pluses of living here is that I can usually walk down a street without having a gang of teenagers putting on a macho show.

It's not utopia though. When violent crime does happen here - it happens big time. I've mentioned before about the vocational colleges and their fighting. It gets bad. The only danger to foreigners though is being caught in the crossfire. Other violent crime can be bought about by a Thai losing face. This often happens in a debate or a bargain at the market that goes wrong, often with the foreigner not realising that shouting or insulting a Thai in public is a big loss of face for them. Employ some common sense, don't let anything get more heated than it needs to.

There have been several extremely violent and tragic crimes here in the last year or so that have tarnished the image. My heart goes out to anyone who suffers. In analysing the events, I noticed that western media, local language media, and local English language media all reported different details. Suffice to say that it does appear that things got personal in every case, none of the cases seemed to be a random attack or short argument. I don't mean to sound cryptic there, but i don't want to speculate or discuss details in any of these events that were so tragic.

In summary, I'd say that as long as you keep your wits about you, and stay sober at least some of the time, don't get too personally involved with anyone too quickly and don't let any disagreements become too public or verbal, then Thailand is a place you can enjoy without any more risk of crime than back home.

The roads though? Aha! That's a different story!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Well it was always going to happen sooner or later.........

My afternoon class has been difficult. It was designed for teenagers but was actually a mixture of adults, teenagers, and a thirteen year old that could debatably be classed as a kid. The lessons are three hours long which is a drag for the keenest of pupils, and the assigned course materials are not the best either.

Yes I know, a workman always blames his tools. I must be honest, I've been doing little to no preparation for these classes, but I honestly believe I've done Ok in the circumstances. I've taught classes like this before and they've been a disaster. Now I'm more experienced, I've done Ok (so I thought) and some of the students like me.

But these two certainly didn't.

Bow and Pye were their names. Both of them had attended one lesson with me before. Yesterday Bow and Pye were both absent. I had decided to play things light, I even got some of the kindergarten kids from next door in to sing some songs for us and lighten the mood, they did so with gusto.

Today I decided to get down to some work. The subject was food - a sure hit with Thai people - and the question was "What's your favourite food?" It went something like this:

The students walk in. They're a serious bunch it must be said. Not my kind of students but you don't pick and choose.

"Hello Bow!" I say with a smile as she walks in. She's not bad looking so my smile is genuine.

"Uh" she says and sorts of gives me a half nod.

"Hi Pye!" I say as the young teenager walks in. "Hello" she says quickly and hides away in the corner.

The other students enter, chat a little, then settle down.

I ask Bow: "What 's your favourite food, Bow?"

She looks at me as if I was speaking Swahili.

"What's your favourite food?" I repeat, slowly.

"Ally wa?" She says to the other students. That's actually a little rude. The other students start to translate but I stop them.

"What....... food you........ like eat?" I say as I mime the act of eating.

"Eh?" she says.

This is an elementary class, not a starter class. Bow must have sat some kind of placement test that did not include "How are you?" or "What do you eat?" Still, it's my job to help her.

I let the students translate for Bow and she responds by burying herself in her dictionary and refusing to look up for anyone.

I turn to Pye. "What do you like to eat Pye?" I ask. I 've been demorilised into simplifying the question by now.

"Huh" she looks at me.

Oh no. Here we go again.

"" I'm smiling, but I could murder some bastard right now.

"Ally wa?"

Oh no......I'm stuck in some kind of educational Bermuda Triangle!!

I give up and let her friends explain in Thai, which kind of defeats the purpose of learning English but sometimes you have to decide to delay the entire class for one student or sacrifice one spot to save the class. That's the reality of teaching.

I assigned the class a grammar task in the workbook and nipped to the toilet. As I returned, Bow and Pye were walking down the corridor. They mumbled something in Thai and passed on. I went into the classroom thinking they had just gone to the toilet in a pair, as girls do.

"They've gone" said one of the other students. One who actually liked me. my best Kevin Spacy voice...."Like that.......they were gone". They had paid for the course, and after twenty minutes decided they didn't want any part of it.

I've said before, a good teacher looks at his or herself when problems arise in the classroom. I can sympathise with the girls, especially the younger one. She most likely expected a teenagers course with fun and games. Now I can do those courses and do them rather well, but with adults in the room, they like to actually, you know, learn stuff. Classes of greatly mixed ages are a challenge, you have to strike a balance and they'll always be at least one who feels the balance isn't right for them.

I must admit, the rather unsociable and slightly ignorant attitude of the older girl didn't help. Some people think teaching is a one way thing, the teacher can wave his Harry Potter magic wand and turn the student into a party animal that speaks fluent English. That's not the case. Teaching is a two way commitment and like anything in life that takes time to learn, you have to be willing to push yourself and make an effort. If you don't want to learn, you won't get far.

So I hope Bow and Pye will give it another chance and perhaps I can give them the type of lesson they want. I honestly feel in this situation I didn't do much wrong, but there's always room for improvement in a teacher, and next time I'll try my best to spot the "I'm about to walk out" student before he or she does a runner.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Manage the flow

Sorry for the disappearance. Due to personal reasons, I've had to go through my blog and take down any posts with direct references to my old school. If I've missed any, let me know. Sad to see the blog deleted as it had some good stuff on there I felt, but at least it wasn't too old and I have motivation to write some more useful posts.

Thailand has suffered yet another test of fortitude. The last few weeks have bought floods. That's nothing new of course, many traditional Thai houses are built on raised stakes (or stilts, I don't know what to call them!). But perhaps due to the inability to deal with change, urban areas have suffered floods once again. His Majesty has offered a temporary solution, release the water from overflowing rivers into farm fields to soak it up, and then compensate the farmers. Such actions have saved Bangkok from disaster.

It amazes me that somebody in the government could not see this coming and taken measures. Then again, it's the kind of event that "might not happen" , so money would be wasted and flak would be taken. If the events do happen, well you just blame somebody else, right?
Tell that to the poor people fleeing their homes right now.