Our first day of orientation was interesting. We had one big group meeting and then split off into three different groups. Group A was for primary teachers and groups B and C were for secondary teachers. Ethan and I were in group B. We sat through two hours of TEFL training (aka teaching english training) and two hours of basic Thai language lesson. The TEFL training was interesting, but since both Ethan and I were told we'd be teaching subjects it was hard to really see how it much it would benefit us. They gave us basic lessons to use with students who don't know much english and told us where to start. It was very general and having gone through teacher education already most of it was common knowledge to us. We did learn some very useful Thai words though that we'll most likely need to use.
The Thai language class was overwhelming even though we didn't learn very much Thai. Thai is a tonal language, meaning every word or phrase comes with different tones. There are 5 tones in Thai and there are some words that are spelled the exact same, but when used with different tones mean completely different things. The Thai alphabet is still beyond my understanding. Way beyond. There are 44 consonants and 32 vowels I think. Why? I don't know. This phrase "I don't know" was the answer to a lot of our questions about the Thai language. Our teacher, Fiat - like the car-, is Thai, but speaks english very well. He also speaks Spanish and a few other languages - he put us all to shame. It was embarrassing. Anyway, we would ask him why Thais spell things certain ways or use certain phrases and he would just say "I don't know, just the way it is!". He's a character and we all grew to really like him. Anyway, after that first lesson we just felt brain dead. It was an information overload to the max extreme. Fiat also taught us a lot about the Thai culture, which was very interesting.
The last thing we did that day was a Q & A with some former teachers. It was fun to hear about their experiences. That night we decided to test the local fair again and headed out to a different restaurant nearby. We ended up getting sweet and sour stir fried chicken, which was not exactly what we expected, but it was good. We actually ended up eating with two girls from the program, Alexis and Shannon. We talked about where we were teaching and all that jazz. They're pretty cool and we ended up hanging out with them more and more as the week went on.
With the first day under our belts we were feeling overwhelmed, but good about being in Thailand. Ethan was still kind of sick and ended up throwing up a few times that night. :[ But we heard it just takes time to get used to the food here so we didn't worry too much. The next day was pretty much the same as the first except we had a traditional Thai welcome ceremony at the end. It was pretty neat. (We each received a bracelet of white string in the welcome ceremony. There were 5 or so Thai's from our staff that would give us some words of wisdom while tying the string. I went to Fiat and he told me, "Thailand's future is our children. They are in your hands. And I trust them there." No pressure, right? -E)
The third day we had to get up at the ass crack of dawn to go to the Grand Palace. We had to leave at 7am so I think we were up by 6. The Grand Palace is where the King usually resides. It also houses the Temple of the Emrald Buddha and some other temples as well as museums. Sounds like so much fun right? Kinda. The thing about the palace is that you have to wear a skirt that covers your knees and a shirt that covers your shoulders, but is not sheer. Guys had to wear long pants. No flip flops! Ok this doesn't sound that bad. It was terrible. I have never been so uncomfortably hot in my whole life. Our wedding day was hot and I sweat a lot that day, but this was on another level. Sweat was pouring down my arms and legs and face at a continuously disgusting pace. The palace was incredible though. The amount of detail they put into some of the buildings and statues was mesmerizing. The Emerald Buddha, which is actually made of jade, was much smaller than I envisioned, but beautiful nonetheless. The whole palace was huge and we really only saw a small portion - maybe because our group spent most of our time in an air conditioned museum, but that's beside the point - but what we did see was crazy awesome.
The following day we were leaving the hotel for Kanchanaburi. We had to pack all our stuff and store it at the hotel and bring a few days worth of clothes for the trip. It was harder than it sounded. Well Ethan didn't have a hard time, but it took me forever. Anyway, we had some classes that day, but as soon as the last one let out we boarded the bus for Kanchanaburi. It took three hours to get there and we stopped for dinner so we didn't get there until after dark. Dinner was interesting. It was mostly seafood so I really only ate rice, but they had what they call a shrimp volcano where they basically have some shrimp on a platter, put a tiny fake volcano on top and light it on fire. It was entertaining. Anywho, the hotel in Kanchanaburi was really cool. It was all open, which meant there were geckos everywhere - yes, geckos like the ones in the movie Madagascar - and cockroaches (we never saw one), but it had two huge pools and the rooms each had a private balcony. It was also located right on the famous Kwai river. (never heard of it?? Wha?? Shame. Google it)
In the morning we had to give lesson plan presentation and then we had lunch and left for the Taweechai Elephant camp! As soon as we pulled up there were three baby elephants out and everyone went straight to them. They were impossibly cute and charming too! The elephant camp involved an elephant ride and a quick bamboo raft trip. The raft trip was interesting and a lot of people took a dip in the river. We chose not to on account of the fact that Ethan's sister Lindsay got an infection from the water. We knew we were being over cautious, but it was also brown and just gross looking. Also, the elephants poop in the water. Ummmm yikes that's nasty. The elephant ride was awesome. Short, but awesome. They let you sit on the elephants neck too - I was a piss poor elephant driver...the guy kept yelling at our elephant. I felt bad. Anyway, after the ride they showed us all the tricks the baby elephants can do. It was so cute and hilarious. Ethan got a traditional Thai massage from the smallest one. It basically hit him with it's trunk a few times and then very gently stepped on him a few times. It was incredibly amusing. We were very sad to leave the elephants, but very excited to visit the bridge over the Kwai river.
The bus pulled up to a restaurant on the river. It looked like your average riverside restaurant, but we were to soon find out it was not at all average. We found our tables and sat eagerly awaiting food. Someone mentioned that the restaurant was floating. We were in fact on a giant barge - that was easy to see. But then the deck connected to a neighboring restaurant started to move and sure enough it was being tugged by a motorboat out into the river. What?! Someone asked if ours was going to move and I was like "no way man this one is huge! that little bitty boat cannot pull this huge thing!" I was mistaken. As soon as we finished dinner we were being tugged out into the river by a litte motor boat. These barges were the size of larger mobile homes - not even joking or exaggerating - and ours was two of them side by side. We all sat out front as we went down the river and when it got dark the barge turned into a rave. Giant speakers blasted insanely loud music and the deck was turned into a dance floor complete with spinning colored lights and strobes. It was the craziest thing. If I hadn't been drenched in sweat from just sitting there I would have joined the dance party (it was hard to resist the urge trust me, but I was just not prepared to deal with the amount of sweat that would pour from every inch of my body). We had a great time watching everyone dance and be silly though.
After the floating dinner/techno rave dance extravaganza we all hit up the hotels jankity (is this a word? of course not silly! But it describes the dilapidated conditions of many things in Thailand. Forewarning! I will continue to use this word!) karaoke room. Since I didn't partake in the dance fun I decided karaoke would be my thing and bonus! it was air conditioned! So pretty much all night I belted out pretty much every song they played that I knew and did a duet to "I wanna dance with somebody" with my new friend Jordan who went to Michigan. It was awesome. People kept handing me the mic when no one wanted to sing. And of course I took it. My other new friends Alexis and Shannon also helped me sing a few songs (such as "I want it that way" and "Total eclipse of the heart"). Eventually it turned into whoever happened to be in the room was singing the songs too - we had a great time watching the boys sing "uptown girl" and "my heart will go on". It was a great last night with the group.
The next day we slept through breakfast (I made it to breakfast just in time for two eggs. -E) , checked out, ate lunch and then headed back to Bangkok to meet our coordinators and head out to our schools.