Sunday, November 19, 2006


Well the Cambodia run went fine. Despite living in Thailand for four years, this was my first Cambodian visa run. The coach company was fantastic - really comfy coaches, helpful staff, etc. The motley crew of travellers was what I expected. Anyone who read my old blog knows about the various categories of expats out here and most of them were represented on the coach.

I tagged along with a New Yorker, a guy from Birmingham and a Norwegian guy. The latter was one of the type who has been in Thailand so long, he believes his own delusions. After telling everybody on the bus that his marriage was "not a bullshit marriage!" (Hey, who said it was , mate?) he went on to correct everything I said about Thailand to the newcomers. I won't go into details but I think once he got into the nonsense of telling the guy from New York that 9/11 was a conspiracy masterminded by George Bush, people had stopped listening. I thought the New Yorker did well not to punch the guy.

For my part I got to read some books. I always have a spate of buying books and promising myself to read them soon but after buying Marvel Ultimate Alliance for the PS2, the temptation of saving the world with a pool of 30 odd heroes proved too strong.

The Cambodian Thai border at Poipet attracts a lot of journalism and photography. It is both an intriguing refection of culture and history and yet at the same time a relatively barren and unimpressive dump. Children less than ten years old carrying babies approach foreigners asking for cash. I find this hard. Giving them money is not the answer and it rewards their parents for laziness and manipulation, but at the same time I hate foreigners who take a pedantic approach or slate people who did hand over cash. These are, after all, genuinely poor kids holding genuine babies who are possibly set for the same path in life. It's tragic. Aging men in sunhats pull carts laden with fruit , old clothes or sometimes just garbage to be sold. Immigration and police officers - most of them paid peanuts - adorned with badges and bands lethargically scourge through travel documents. On the Cambodian side, poverty reigns supreme. Reminders of the country's troubled past stands everywhere in statues, posters,and run down buildings. How tragic that someone in Cambodia is obviously pulling string to allow the last of the Khymer Rouge to die of old age rather than face trial.

Markets on the side of the road spot cigarettes, cheap electronic goods and food. Goods are cheap, yet you have to wonder why anyone bothers buying duty free when most goods are smuggled anyway.

New blogs on the block

It was a definite mistake deleting the old blog. I had some good content on there and my readership has dropped dramatically (promote me if you can!). I made such a rash decision I didn't even make a back up. The only surviving blog is one on Thai-blogs with an interesting follow on debate.

My big (mhaha!) news is that I'm launching my political blog today.

Right now it's just a beta version. I'll be looking to make big improvements in the layout. Any ideas welcome. I'll be linking to this blog but I won't be linking in the other direction, since I want to keep out of trouble with some of my political views bound to upset someone over here.

I hope it won't offend anyone but it might. You have been warned.......

Friday, November 17, 2006

Cat and mouse: Thaksin torments the Thai government

Ousted PM Thaksin Shinawat is playing mind games with his deposers. He’s traveling all around Thailand and being very public about it. The coup squad are doing their best, but the aging bunch now in control are struggling to keep up with the master manipulator. They have smartly set up a special group similar to the ICAC in Hong Kong to investigate the assets of Thaksin and his henchmen, but it’s taking time to build a concrete case, not due to lack of offences but simply of how purposely covert and obfuscated all Thaksin’s acts of patronage and embezzlement were. Thaksin's behaviour has suprised or confused somepeople. For my part, I always knew his ego was too big to accept defeat or acknolwedge his crimes against the people that choose him to serve them.

With the folk in the north still under his spell, the interim government really have a task on their hands. Better news lies in the terrorism riddled south of Thailand. The interim PM has taken massive steps by publicly apologizing to the people for their treatment under Thaksin, and legal measures have been taken to assist unfairly charged suspects and blacklisted teachers in the area. A few maniacs continue to kill innocent people though, despite losing some of their hysterical reasons to do so


Tomorrow I’m doing a one day visa run to Cambodia. It’s part of a process to basically go back to square one in terms of applying and acquiring all the documents to make me a legal teacher. Anybody who switches employers has to do this.


....and the students go marching in..................

Today – as with every Friday – the students in my school did their marching duties. As part of school discipline procedures, all students (in nearly every school) must stand outside for the national anthem, say a prayer, and work up a sweat by marching. I was walking past the masses of kids as usual when they started doing their chanting. Suddenly I started having flash backs of football matches. Images of Southampton playing Man Utd, Liverpool, and Arsenal came flooding back. I couldn’t figure out why. Then I got it: the shouts from the kids were echoing off the school walls. That noise – unified shouting and chanting reverberating round – was the first I had heard since my football days. Sounds are second only to smells in triggering nostalgia.


“The Departed” starring Leonardo Di Cpario, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson is great. It’s based on a Hong Kong movie called Infernal Affairs, but this western version is better. It’s a definite break on the Hollywood slump.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Kindergarten flop?

I thought I knew a lot. Not everything, but a lot. Now I'm wiser.

Teaching Kindergarten has forced me to throw all my plans out of the window. When I first came to Thailand, I was trained to teach adults. I then got a job teaching big classes of teenagers and I slowly learned to adapt, big time. Now all that experience counts for nothing as once again, I'm back to square one.

KG kids don't listen. Not because they are rude but because their concentration spans are so short. They don't respond to verbal lashings because they don't really understand what you're mad about. They do stuff - stuff like calling you over to check the answer to every question on a worksheet - one at a time - because they need the security of you saying "yes, well done" every minute. And of course, they don't sit down when you tell them to, they have energy and they need to burn it.

I've fallen back on a few tried and tested bribes. I give out stickers to good kids, I play hangman, all that stuff. It's hard though, my school has made me a math teacher and the mathematics department has no resources, and my own self-produced worksheets have to be sent to the head office department to be approved. It makes for a rough ride right now.

Dylan is also on full throttle right now. Inside three weeks he has begun to walk , point, and speak "Da, da". His brain is so stimulated that he wakes and sleeps all kinds of crazy hours. I'm not complaining though, it's a joy to watch him on the move.

After my mistake of buying a fake Chinese mp4 player last week, I've invested in a Samsung YP2. The reason for this being that it supports ogg vorbis. A lot of people don't realise just how poor quality mp3 and wma (the former, especially) can be. To any music fan, I strongly recommend ogg vorbis . It matches aac (the imusic, ipod and mp4 format) and it's non proprietary meaning it doesn't use the evil drm and it doesn't make money for greedy corporations. You can use ogg vorbis on your favourite media player and encode CDs just like you do with mp3 or aac, just check here.

The same group also make a lossless codec for those who want to back up or copy their CDs onto their pc. You could do this with mp3 or aac but the sound quality is a lot lower because these formats actually discard a lot of the information from a music CD, it makes for a smaller file but much lower quality, the sound is ok on a portable but can be gruesome when played on a powerful set of speakers.

I had plans to write more - about the illusion of Thailand as paradise, an illusion that befalls many newcomers , and how that can change to manic depression for some over time - but it will have to wait. Dylan calls, or rather, he wails.

I'm thinking of strarting a seperate blog to unleash all my political urges. I'll make it separate as it will no doubt be controversial to many, and I don't want to lose friends. I've been planning to wrie a piece on PETA for some time.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

All Thai schools are not the same....

So in Thailand, there are four types of school. Now that I’ve worked in all but one of these different types of establishments, I feel I’m qualified to make some comments.

Government schools. As you may expect, government schools tend to be the least equipped. Class sizes are big – often in excess of fifty students per class. Some of the better schools in this group can offer modern classrooms and a decent salary though. Beware; many government schools have very old fashioned teachers and attitudes to foreigners.

Bi – lingual schools. Just like where I work now. Bi –lingual schools are usually modern in architecture and attitude. Facilities are good. Plenty of employment opportunities exist for foreigners here though salaries are usually not higher than the better government schools.

Private schools. These establishments usually exist on high streets and in shopping malls. They provide tailored lessons in private classrooms. They usually have a high turnover of staff and pay pretty low rates but they are a good source of temporary or part time work or a good start for new teachers.

International schools. For the real teachers, It’l schools provide a high salary. Most of them expect applicants to have a legitimate .degree in education. Needless to say, they have high expectations in terms of work rate and performance. Thai International schools still have a surprisingly high turnover of staff.

I don’t want to name names. Anyone spending more than a day outside tourist Bangkok will find at least one example of each of the above establishments. If you are really looking for work it’s best just to drop in. make sure you are dressed as a worker and not a tourist though. I know from my days of head teaching that appearances mean a great deal to Thai staff.

Right now I’m working in a bilingual school. I’ll provide more details on everyday life there soon.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The first day

It was 0530 hours, I was the most scared I had been in years. My hands were shaking, I had not slept all night. I could feel my stomach clenching. What was my fear? A fight to the death? A meeting with the underworld? No, it was my first day teaching Kindergarten.

Sure I had taught teenagers, but they were teenagers. They could be controlled with voice, actions, and expressions. They had some idea of learning. But Kindergarten????!! You’ve seen the movie Kindergarten Cop, right? And I was teaching mathematics, never done that before. And I was being observed, observed by someone who knew about teaching maths in Kindergarten!!!!

So the nerves grew until I entered the classroom? Then I saw how small they were. The day did indeed see casualties – one kid left screaming after his friend stuck a pencil in his ear, another kid wet himself and one girl started to howl as her mum left the school. But somehow we all made it through.

Oh, and my new school is very nice. Now I work in bi-lingual school, I can make some comparisons and give more details of teaching choices in Thailand. I’ll do that when I have more time.