Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Filth and fun, fair and fight and flight and festivities (3)

Flight and Festivities

'Walk out to winter...swear you'll be there...cool winds leave you...high and dry...you wonder why...?' sang Roddy Frame in '80s cult classic band Aztec Camera and indeed we did, was and were...

Here we are back in dear old Blighty and things haven't changed much. Only the trees are now threadbare and it's around 4 degrees (or so the accentless Qatarian?? pilot told us anywhere much to the anxiety of several Thai brides on the last leg of our flight home).

It feels weird being back but not as weird as I imagined- we've grown accustomed to life in Thailand and following a horrific 24 hour plus journey door-to-door Chatuchak to Hayes the wrong way round and real jet-lag to contend with 5 months on the other side of the world I can't imagine we'll be up for too many trips home in future. (A winter wonderland experience Christmas 2010 could and should invlove- Shanghai, Beijing, the Great Wall and a final Trans-Siberian Express trip back to Eastern Europe or possibly Moscow for a real Christmas).

It wasn't helped by the 'ignorami' (thanks Pudding) refusing to put their seats in the upright position for even essential mid-flight activities like eating and the Jean-Claude Van Damme lookalike in front might have had his (very tasty, actually) saffron chicken lapdancing for him rather than the hookers he'd just left in BKK if D hadn't managed to move into a spare seat the other side of me just vacated by another nailed-on single Sex Toursist (funny how all the strict Muslim countries provide such an efficient service to the liberal far-east especially for males... The indigenous population, in traditional garb or otherwise as well as those (frankly demented) ex-pat workers that reside in a tax-free haven with virtually nothing to do who I also include in this slightly politically incorrect, and perhaps downright defamatory observation on the male population of Qatar and its surrounding locale...but I'm right, so who cares ;-)) .

Luckily the second leg from Qatar was virtually incident free, only an impossibly difficult middle-eastern staff in Doha refusing to get a move on for all the walking Zombies who were wanting to get some shut-eye desperately as they negotiated the long, long journey backwards in time.

I sound extremely miserable at what should be such a happy time of year, but as the new year comes into view and I'm here in Brum busy typing on someone else's laptop, one can't help reflecting on what the hell we're doing here. Maybe it's the lot of 'the wanderer' who can never really settle, maybe it's because we're not used to all this but we're both painfully aware of how much people are suffering in England at the moment and how unlikely it is that people are automatically going to want to hear about our good fortune on the other side of the world... It's something that ex-pats moan about a lot. But then again they moan about most things and D and I don't feel we fit in over there with the saddos and lonely money-grabbers either.

Perhaps we ought to perpetually circle the globe in our own version of Airforce One never really trying to fit in anywhere. Although the legroom would have to be slightly more roomy than I'm used to and I'd soon get bored of watching endless James Bond films on the enormous film collections in their in-flight schedule they have these days...

We were desperate to come home at the end. Expensive though it is, it seems very much worth it. Family and friends being very welcoming and no doubt will continue to be up in Sheffield (19th-23rd or possibly before) and down in Cornwall (27th-30th) before we embark the right way round this time from Birmingham via 'Emirates' and Dubai on New Year's Day. Although we've got a ton of post and several issues with the usual rigma of banking, finances and organisations to sort out and all I want to do is sleep all the time at the most inappropriate times.

The Thais try their best with Christmas but the rumour that someone spotted Santa on a cross possibly might not be too far fetched. Honestly...

The King's birthday/Father's Day doesn't quite do it for us Brits and although some colleagues were spending time together in Bangers and a few were venturing to Bali and Cambodia and Laos for a very alternative Christmas- most of us were flying home because despite it's commercialism and downright hollow meaning most of the time, there's nowhere quite like home at Christmastime- or so we hope.

Pics will no doubt follow from the triumvate of Brum, Sheff and Cornwall. We've got some essentials to get for ourselves and a few others still on the front line eg- Cider for Gay Gray, Worcester Sauce Crisps for Camp Gary, mags for mucky Hannah (not mucky ones mind you, just trash like Closer etc- which are £4 each in BKK) and Marmite for the Milky Bar Kid.

The Thais don't do Merry Christmas wishes, in fact we weren't allowed proper carols in this PC world we live in and their new year is in April as I've mentioned before- so Khun Joy, our Thai teacher says just say 'Sanuk, Sanuk', which loosely translated means 'have fun' or 'enjoy life'. Although I mentioned it to the gay Science technician and his 'fag hag' before we left and they looked at me like I was suggesting they would have fun together! Not possible when 70% of young males are allegedly gay and 40% of young women are within the different degrees of lesbianism in this strange world we inhabit for most of the year...

So I'll leave you with that thought and Happy Christmas and Happy New Year to you if we don't see you before. See you on the other side.

Sanuk, Sanuk!

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Filth and Fun, Fair and Fight and Flight and Festivities (2)

Fair and Fight

Following a few weeks visiting bars in Bangkok (trendy HiSo teen joints on RCA (Royal City Avenue) and slightly lower-middle class LoMiSo?? clubs on Ratchida(pisek) Soi 8) and a bit of a trip with the kids (my homeroom-Y7) to Samut Songkhram (I'd love to show you the pics but even though the draconian 'images of minors' policies prevalent in western societies aren't present over here (good and sensible) the current political climate around these parts (bad, worrying and more of that later prevents me) we checked the calendar and to be fair indeed it was fate, the dreaded School Fayre (or as American English bastadises Fair)/Fete was coming up on Saturday...

It's the time of year that every UK teacher hates in international schools. A full Saturday at the end of a long full term having to hobnob and join in with forced fun.

Of course some of the 'Pariah Brigade' (as I've just Christened them) were loving the idea of spending spare time on a weekend in school and a chance to boost their flailing profile to rich and influential parents not to mention give them something to do on the weekend other than topping up their tans...

We sauntered in at midday after a particularly late and heavy one for D in the locality and a lightweight and early one for me watching western and Thai boxing with the ever-annoying hoi-polloi and wannabe-polloi (more of the third type of expat in a future post) at The British Club on Silom, for a colleague's baby-wetting lads night- congratulations once again Si and Yas!
I and half of my homeroom (half because the other half didn't turn up!) were running the Thai favourite stall 'Sao Noi Tok Nam' roughly translated as 'young girl falls in the water', which should involve a beautiful Thai girl in traditional dress, suspended over a water tank whilst feisty young males (probably an ancient fertility rite) throw balls at targets that once hit, drop the girl into the water.
Thais have a real affinity with water and celebrate the Thai new year (Songkran- we're currently 2552 in Thai years) with a water ceremony (people in hot countries crave the water to sustain life- perhaps Brits should pray for the sun more?) that latterly has turned into a mass water fight, (mainly for nak tong teow- the person who travels/tourist as everything in Thailand seems to be geared around...)
If you're blasted, bombarded or bucketed with water you're blessed bizarrely- in a spiritual sense as well as literally as April (the time of Songkran is the hottest month of the year- many Farangs choosing to huddle in their air-conned apartments in the same way Westerners do with central heating in the winter!)
However, we didn't/couldn't round up many Thai girls (they were too busy working the massage parlours...) and because the idea of forcing a woman under the water I would normally associate with the sadistic behaviour of a serial killer- we chose some hairy-arsed UK male teachers, including me on a double stint.

The school mainly runs the fayre to help with the numerous community service projects that the (perhaps too much time on their hands) HiSo Thai parents like to administer for the poor and needy of Thailand- including the pitiful Soi dogs who greet and growl at you from all over Bangkok, charging money to play teacher and homeroom inspired games for raffle tickets and eventually gifted prizes from local companies at the later after-fayre show. It also commemorates the school's founder so it is quite a big deal.

We had fun, despite our early reservations, each year group had a country and we had to plan game booths (so excited to have the word booth used so often recently) inspired by our country (the theme was 'We are the World'- international school, Michael Jackson...I know...for a school, slightly inappropriate, but the Thais do love him and everything has been brushed under the carpet latterly), - ours was chosen as USA (despite me wanting Italy and Costa Rica nearly edging it) so we went for the water theme of Hawaii and the kids didn't have to do a full on dressing up with gaudy shirts, board shorts, flip-flops and flowers sufficing.

So 'Booths' Bombin' Booth' was quite a sensation in the end, the kids' posters never quite managing to use the apostrophes that well, but we'll let them off considering it's their second language and full-time English users are pretty useless with this vital piece of punctuation anyhow. D's Japanese magnetic fish game was less-successful but her group's ninja costumes were great. She seemed to spend most of the time in the water tank as we had quite a few hours to fill (my two stints ended up with me breaking my toe as the tank was just too small for a big lad like me and as I said young Thai girl I aint)

Now onto the stage show- a chance to relax and enjoy the rest of the 8 hours we were contractually obliged to put in... Or so we thought...

Well, here's where the Booth legal team have stepped in.


Suffice to say for legal, occupational and safety reasons I'm unable to fill you in anymore in the cyber-world. I know many bloggers post in an 'invite only' way but frankly that defies the object of blogging especially when so few people could actually find us in this way and even more frankly it pisses me off when (like with message boards and chat rooms) the Big Brothers of the internet world have completely ruined the idea of free-speech and opinion, especially in such a wonderful global world that we live in these days. BTW, I'm not talking about 'serious' defamation of character here!)

In a more frivolous mode, however- I hope I've sewn the seed for more- in which case those of you lucky enough to meet us in person over the Christmas period will undoubtedly learn more- just to let you know we're safe and sound...for now...

Next time: Flight and Festivities

Filth and Fun, Fair and Fight and Flight and Festivities (1)

Alliteration, the one thing along with metaphor, that most half decent scholars can remember about secondary school English lessons when they're grown up and have long forgotten everything else- if not the term, then surely the purpose, where specific words starting with the same letter are used for effect by a writer.

It is with this purpose that I link you into our latest adventures since the Krabi expedition. Although here the 'Fs' are not used for profanity or to stutter like Arkwright the erstwhile, northern shopkeeper from the popular 80s sitcom, starring the late, great Ronnie Barker and 'used to be great' David Jason.

Far from it in fact, as I couldn't possibly be s-s-s-s-s-sstutterr-r-r-ring about the last month! Have I whetted your appetite for more? Good, then read on dear reader...

Although November is seen as a miserable month in the Western world, it could be equally be viewed in the same way out East- not much happening apart from cooler weather (a whole 4-5 degrees!) and the potential of no rain at all for 6 months (marked by Thais with the Loi Krathong festival, where Thais of all ages set off little floral boats onto water to thank the waterways for the usage by us and to thank Mother Nature for stopping the incessant daily hour's torrential rainstorm- although like the rest of the world and global warming- it's very unlikely that the wet, dry and hot seasons will shuffle in and out in the same way anymore). We however, continued to have as many adventures as we could- starting with:

Filth and Fun

Everyone warned us, no-one expected us to venture into the world of filth and debauchery that is the Sex capital of Thailand, if not the whole of South-East Asia, the infamous Pattaya.(although some expert recently claimed that 'there was more prostitution in the Phillipines and Taiwan, easily.' I don't know how and why he conducted his research and nor do I want to know- still who am I to argue.) As always with these things, the claims were greatly exaggerated and we had a great weekend. Yes, the streets are laden with go-go bars (a slightly weirdly old-fashioned term for bars/strip joints/brothels that has been left over from America's occupation of Vietnam and continued by the U. S. oddballs (followed by Brits and Aussies) that returned to this part of the world over the last 40 years- I almost expected to see such outdated adjectives as 'happening' and 'switched on' to advertise them in their bright neon signage!)

Yes, it was a bit seedy, with old men wandering around with young girls, but it seemed strangely appropriate in this quite pretty seaside resort, rather than in BKK- 10 quid each return and 3 and a half hours there and back from Bangkok. There's a whole post and debate about Thailand's most famous industry, but as always things are never as cut and dried as they seem. It was also easy to ignore and keep away from, if you wanted to, which we did.
Think a slightly more exotic Benidorm and much more exotic and with a better seafront Blackpool!

We went down to see some colleagues post-sky dive (I bailed at the last hour- not from the plane, of course!) and to escape Bangkok for a bit and in the cooler temperature and cheap and very basic room at 8 pound a night we had a great stay and will venture back soon. We especially enjoyed the drunken Brit getting battered around the ring by a 15 year old Muay (boxing) Thai fighter in a bar and 'Ripley's Believe it or Not!' museum (yes, really!) on the Sunday, but not the Irish bar and overpriced British Transport Cafe styled all-day breakfast (advertised as being 'the no1 food for truckers all over the world', not sure if Tibetan truckers in the Himalayas would tuck into greasy bacon and eggs though...) as well as bad Danny La Rue impressionists miming to bad/good Korean pop!

Coming next- Fair and Fight

Friday, 13 November 2009

Feeling a little Krabi? Part 2

On the Saturday, we decided to take a little tour round some of the surrounding bays. We visiting the James Bond island where 'The Man with the Golden Gun' had been filmed. You know the one with the man with the extra nipple and the little fella with the thyroid problem. Anyway, after taking a few pictures and a dip in the deceptively deep water, we moved on to view a temple (wat).

The wat is inside a cave with a giant reclining Buddha and is, rather bizarrely, inhabited by monkeys. Loads of them. Despite the monkeys all being very well fed by the constant swarm of tourists, this didn't seem to be enough for the little bleeders. I was left rather perturbed when a particularly wily one decided to grab hold of my ankle and tried scaling my leg to get to my cornetto! One cheeky one had already had it away with our driver's ice-lolly. Alas, my monkey wasn't so lucky. I'm not a girl to be easily parted from her food.

Before we returned to Bangkok on Sunday, we had a 'chillax' on the beach at Railay Bay where we treated ourselves to a full-body massage. I had been too scared to have one before then (I don't stand pain very well) but it was brilliant. Not sure how much J enjoyed his though. Instead of having a nubile, young filly as a masseuse, he got a ponytailed, middle-aged man whose groin (at one point) was pressed rather firmly into J's back!

At the end of the weekend, we both decided that we'd love to come back but definitely for longer next time. Sorry that some of the pictures in part 1 don't quite match the description. We had to go back to rather more traditional means of taking photos (a 35mm camera no less) and that particular roll of film is still waiting to be developed. Until next time, sawadee kha.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Feeling a little Krabi? Part 1

After our rather action-packed week off (courtesy of the Booths Tours Bangkok Ltd), we really could have done with a holiday! Alas, the next one isn't until mid-December so we decided to go away for my birthday instead. We were booked up for a weekend in Krabi.

My birthday was on the Tuesday and (me being me) decided not only to celebrate on my actual birthday but to also eek it out for as long as possible. On the Tuesday night, J booked us in for dinner at the BedSupperClub. I'd been dying to go there from before we came to Thailand. In fact, is was probably the only thing in Thailand I found of interest before we arrived and was in awe of the stark white interior. It looked like a scene from a 70s sci-fi B movie.

Anyway, from the outside the club actually looks like a spaceship (aha, my suspicions were confirmed!). We arrived on time but found ourselves waiting outside for about 15 minutes whilst they opened up. This usually wouldn't bother me but that evening was, I'll have you know, rather chilly. I had to wear a cardi! I suspect the temperature only actually dropped to about 21 degrees but after the months of sweltering heat, it may as well have been freezing fog!

We were shown inside to a large white area; above us was a large white balcony. Our table was actually a sort of bed that extended around three sides of the restaurant. You take your shoes off and hop on (so to speak). We sipped mojitos and listened to music (yes, proper music-I was so excited!!) whilst, erm, lying in bed. We had pillows and everything. All we were short of was a duvet. Actually, blankets were available from behind the bar...

We had a very nice dinner and just when I thought we ought to polish off our drinks and get going, a man dressed, in what looked like white hospital robes, walked into the middle of the restaurant and lay down on the chaise-longe. He then proceeded to make himself comfortable and went to sleep! At this point, I was convinced that he must be on day-release from Bangkok Mental Hospital. Then, the music changed, the lights dimmed and a woman came out and began strutting round him in a rather elaborate costume (which was very nice actually, if you like that sort of thing. Bit fancy for day wear-too many frills). She then picked up a glass vial filled with red liquid and proceeded to pour it over his nether regions! I was beginning to wonder if day-release was extended to the entire hospital when the word 'LUST' flashed up on the screen above the DJs head and she sloped off.

We figured that as only 'LUST' had come up, we were in for another 6 deadly sins. About 10 minutes later, another very elaborately dressed woman, carrying a vial of purple liquid, came in and began walking round the same bloke. However, instead of pouring the liquid over him, she walked over to me and handed me the vial! What the hell was I supposed to do with it??! Gesturing for me to take part in this poor gentleman's ritual humiliation, I poured the contents over him, avoiding the nethers this time, in the shape of a cross. Very artistic! I don't actually know what 'sin' I was supposed to represent. I was too shocked to look at the screen. We sat through 'VANITY' and 'SLOTH' before leaving.

Anyway, as I said, one evening out (as great as it was), was not enough for me. So that weekend we took an hour-long flight to the beach resort of Krabi. Now, neither of us had heard of Krabi when we were back in England, but clearly we must have been the only ones. The resort had plenty of Brit, German, Aussie and Russian holidaymakers.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Being the photographer means you're missing off ALL the photos...

It has been a rather long half-term. After a very interesting and eventful 10 weeks (99% of it amazing; the other 1% taken up with dealing with the clinically insane and professional brown-nosers), it really was time for a well-earned rest. Whilst the rest of our colleagues set off for week long trips to Koh Tao, Koh Samui and Krabi to bask in the sun and drink cocktails, we got the flat cleaned, changed the bedding and got very excited about staying in Bangkok. My aunty Jennifer and her best friend Sharon were coming to stay.

Just before leaving the UK, we stayed with Jennifer for a few days as she lives near Heathrow. The day before we left, a random conversation led to her looking at flights, booking a ticket for her and her best friend to fly to Bangkok to visit us during our first half-term and for her 46th birthday.
As the weeks drew closer and that pesky 1% started to really bug us (far more than they should have), we began looking forward to that little bit of home more and more.

The Friday night before they arrived we decided that we shouldn't try entertaining visitors with just a loaf of bread and 3 eggs in the fridge. We had long given up on buying actual, proper food here but if people are coming, you should at least try and pretend. So a quick trip to the supermarket later and the cupboards looked a little more respectable. I thoroughly hate shopping here. With regards to food: you either have to go to Tesco Lotus (I know; you travel thousands of miles and still you have to get your bread and milk from Tesco's-depressing) which is far too big and confusing or you have to go to Villa which is nice and small but clearly aimed at the mega-rich. We buy 4 items and some how have spent the equivalent of 20 quid! As for clothes shopping, if you want to give yourself a complex about your body then come to Thailand! I'm no small girl but I wouldn't call myself a hefalump either yet whenever I try anything on, I either can't fit my shoulders into it (who knew I had the shoulders of an American footballer) or I have the humiliating experience of having to ask for a XL or XXL! As for shoes, Thai shop assistants look horrified by the size of my feet! Bizarrely, J at 6'4'' doesn't appear to have these problems. Anyway, back to the main topic: Jen and Sharon.

So last Saturday morning, we arrive bright and early at the airport. Suvanabhumi airport isn't exactly user-friendly. However, after an hour's wait I see Jen and Sharon walking towards us. Back at our apartment, we are thrilled to find they have not only brought over the obligatory tea bags and cheese (you have no idea how expensive those items are here) but also Rich Tea, Digestives and Celebrations chocolates. I was practically wetting myself with excitement. Until now, I had wondered why J and I hadn't put on more weight since we eat more sugar and more fat here than we ever did in England. The biscuits, chocolates and cheese reminded me we eat far less food and definitely less junk now we're in Thailand. Please note that the 4 packets of biscuits and the huge tub of Celebrations only arrived 7 days ago and already there is only 1 packet of biscuits left. Oops...
After unpacking, we set off on what became the most activity packed 6 days I've ever done. We went to the Grand Palace (lots of gold and emeralds), an elephant centre (lots distinctly unhappy looking elephants; although I was particularly impressed with their footballing skills especially from the one dressed in the Rooney kit), the State tower (drinking coctails on the roof 64 floors up), the beach at Koh Samed (with 40 mozzy bites to prove it), eating at Cabbages & Condoms and doing lots and lots and lots and lots of shopping! I don't think I have shopped that much in my life(especially when you take into account what I outlined to you about my shopping experiences so far) but Jen and Sharon were clearly in their element! I think, however, the shopping slowly made J lose the will to live. It did something to him anyway as he had another 'unfortunate incident' with another electical appliance. This time, the phone has gone to rest in 'appliance heaven' after being cradled in J's pocket whilst he took a wee swim in the sea.
We had an amazing week with them and I really hope they enjoyed seeing us as much as we enjoyed having them come to stay. The only downside was that we are probably more homesick now than we were before and are actually really looking forward to coming home for a couple of weeks at Christmas. Only 7 weeks till then.
In the meantime, back to work tomorrow and a weekend in Krabi for my birthday in a couple of weeks. Will keep you posted. For now, back to work and trying to avoid the 1%.

Monday, 28 September 2009

I lost my songs down a Khao Yai waterfall

Not a translation of a popular Thai folk song translated into English with my newfound Thai interpretation skills but the reality of going up country and down waterfall with an ipod in your trouser pocket.

D and I went all 'Deliverance' again and attempted to tame nature until it unexpectedly fought back.

Many of the 'tachers' were off to the Khao Yai national park (where St Steve's sister school is) the following weekend to hike, play tennis, swap resources and talk shop about nailing kids for forgetting their Lacrosse sticks, but not for D and I- we were going all Burt Reynolds, sans 'tache, and Jon (how the hell did he produce such a cracking daughter) Voight again in the wilderness early. Seeing as D has a hairier chest than me and can recite all the lines from the 'Smokey and the Bandit' films and I have 'a real purty mouth' she got to be Burt and I was Voight.

Luckily things didn't get too macho and there were no potential male rapists (only Graham from Cornwall, where sodomy is a given) as we were aided by some familiar faces, daring Thai guys and a French character from the Tricolore French text books-

'Ou est Pierre?'

'Pierre est falling down a waterfall in Thailand!'

wasn't one of the usual grammar exercises one found in the '80s, but it fitted here.

We were told to prepare for something a little more daring than the last adventure, perhaps Corrin's translation skills aren't as perfect as we thought as none of us knew what was about to befall us:

1. A 70 foot drop without safety rope that the SAS would've been proud of and overhanging cliff into a lagoon just as it started raining
1a. A tree crashing down into the valley floor just after we'd departed

2. A short abseil down the middle of a slippy waterfall (where the ipod got ruined and because of the last harddrive refusing to work we can't reload them onto a new ipod!)

3. Lunch in a cave consisting of the tastiest chicken I've had in Thailand yet and some sticky rice

4. Another terrifying waterfall abseil where it was impossible to know which way was up and which way was down (see the video of Corrin in perhaps the scariest and most amusing thing I've seen in a long time holding his breath while decending like Mr Bean)

5. Fun on a Tarzan swing

6. A hike on your hands and knees down a fast flowing river which took about 3 hours!

7. A final mini abseil into a boat where you had to row your way to civilisation!

All this of course while being filmed by a Thai TV crew for Channel 7 TV- perhaps they'll name it 'When thick Farangs go bad' or something...

They seemed disappointed that none of us fell to our deaths I think- it would've boosted the viewing figures no doubt!

The canoeing on the Sunday was laughably tame in comparison.

It's a few quiet weekends now before our first visitors arrive for October half-term, sorry mid-term break, and we work out how to send some money home.

Laew phop gan mai

Monday, 14 September 2009

Stories of pictures of...

I know some of you can't read very well and because I seem to be tired all the time so often can't be bothered to type (although by the time I've finished reading this it seems it's the longest post in a long time)- I thought some pics might be more suitable for all of us.

A colleague, Paul, is a keen and skilled amateur photographer and has added some good pics to facebook from the first month or so and I'm sure he won't mind me sharing them- hey he won't even know unless my ego gets the better of me and I post a link from facebook.

Above is the sketching from D's first anniversary present for me (she had a cheap blow-up of Bearwood High Street in exchange but she didn't seem to mind...) from the rising artistic talent of Sheffield and one time HMV colleague and fellow Wednesday fanzine contributor Pete McKee. Hopefully it will grace the main wall in our apartment when we return to the UK to fetch it come Christmas. Hopefully my face will look less round in the finished version and D will begin to look black- but who knows...

Above that is one of Paul's shots from a recent lads only trip to Sukhumvit (a very touristcentric part of Bangkok that is also popular with expats) in Country Road II bar- not sure where the original Country Road is but I'm assured it's probably even more surreal. Here the Thais love of Country is shown for the first time in this post- you might be able to spot the Thai Country star on the stage- I particularly enjoyed the Beegees and Billy Joel medleys he diversified into (both artistes are a particular secret favourite of mine- especially the much maligned Mr Joel). All this while being served constant booze, club sandwiches and having pool balls racked by Thai bar ladies!
Higher still is the infamous Soi (alley) Cowboy, named after a GI post 'Nam who positioned this street as Bangkok's premier fleshpot for lots of belligerent and ignorant westerners to expoloit/be ripped off by up country Thai girls looking for Prince Charming. They're not likely to find him ala 'Pretty Woman' as the place is full of saddos and aggressive 'lads' who are happy to fuel the Thai image of western males. D and I have already realised that we're not fond of the expat areas like Sukhumvit and Silom. The prices are huge for everything that you have tried to forget about the west and the often boorish attitude of our 'kin' when juxtaposed next to the refined and pleasant Thai people is too much to take at times.
Rising up we have a strange shot of me at 'Winks' the local music bar come trendy HiSo teen/early 20s hangout in our area of Chatuchak, about half a mile up our road Pathon Yothin. Gary, the Head of English first introduced me to the place on our first working day and I think he's already started to regret it as he was at one time a bit of a novelty as the only Farang (foreigner) regular as it's just on the end of the soi where he lives- now all the St Steve's staff seem to be treating it as a local!
Not that the trendy young Thai things that co-own it would be thrilled with Gary's, D's or my UK credentials as it's just not in the nature of Thai people to ask you about life in the UK- they seemingly are happy to soak up, especially US and in this case UK culture. (the place is full of Beatles stuff, including DVDs of the Fab Four in the far east in the 60s and has a large display case full of action figures and curio alternative/retro items like 'Speak n spells') That particular night we were in, the band were playing a Ska set followed by Arctic Monkeys and Pulp downladed on a macbook by the DJ. Here was an opportunity to ask a Sheffielder with more than a passing knowledge about both Sheffield bands and a woman from the home of 2Tone everything they didn't know but the Thais just seem to regard you with mild curiosity (they certainly did when we were dancing later on- as far as I can see they are far too reserved to do anything other than bop in a stationary position)- and it's to their credit and my admiration.
Judging by my expression I'd had quite a few by this time (eventually we rolled in down Yothin at 5:30! unheard of since about 1994) and it seems that I'll have to find my drinking boots again as the expat culture and Thai for that matter is heavily into boozing. A few bottles followed by a whiskey and soda to share seems to be the novel way of joining in and it seems to work as the soda actually hydrates you along the way and stops the dreadful hangover in a tropical country the next day- or so the geeky Science teachers tell me.
Higher still is me on the speedboat taking us back from our first, and only so far, beach adventure. I can see the burnt patches of my ever decreasing hairline in this shot (I actually look like a young Peter Cushing here I think) but I look smug and contented and so I should do- we have a wonderful job, in a great city and have made some great new friends as quite a few of us are couples over here for similar reasons and have just been thrown together to live, work and play. It's not been easy at times, especially living and working with your better half, but on the whole everyone's been great and I think it shows on my face. Using facebook also reminds me just how priviliged we are to be here and enjoying weekends like this when most people are negotiating painter and decorators or watching their children take their first dump in a potty if their facebook statuses are anything to go by. Thank goodness D and I didn't smarm our way into a career in the UK. Although there's quite a few here that are trying so I guess the no nowt, thick as pigshit, talentless and charmless jobsworth is a universal figure of fun and frustration for normal folk.
There's a few of us karaokeing on a recent trip up country (I've detailed some of it in a lazy way in the previous post) The shot, I think is really professional and the depth Paul has got in this image is amazing. If I could be bothered I'd like to learn how- but in the meantime I'm happy to copy his pics and give him some occasional credit along with his wife Hannah and another couple, Andrea and Graham (there you go I know he reads this so will enjoy seeing his name in lights), who also like to use big cameras. We are learning Thai though so perhaps we are contributing to some of this proud country's culture in some way.
I digress though, karaoke is another import of course and like it's originator Japan, seems to have a massive effect on the Thai people. Often they're hesitant to do anything that is deemed a bit 'showing off' (like men going bare chested in the swimming pool or the dancing I was mentioning earlier) but are happy to humiliate themselves 'Endurance' style at the mic. In this pic we are giving it some western tuneage from the limited repetoire they had on their database- but it's clear they were happy when we had gone, such is the way they are proud of themselves and happy to make themselves look a bit, well, stupid with dreadful Country numbers and bubblegum uncatchy pop sung in Thai with dreadfully high-pitched voices.
We recently ventured to Chinatown in Bangkok and were met with an old man singing (badly) into a mic at 3pm in the afternoon in a very traditional mall with no-one listening- very surreal. It's also clear from the kids at school that Thais love this geek chic and not in a it's cool to be uncool way- more likely they appreciate someone when they're a bit of a loser as they're more likely to be self-deprecating. (although not in my experience- losers try way too hard to fit in and their easy going nature is generally on the surface due to the way they look and carry themselves) I guess it fits in with the Buddhist philosophy of humility being the way to enlightenment (or so Steven Seagal says, that great Buddhist philosopher...) although I'm not sure Thais are proper Buddhists and only seem to catch on to the fun stuff like Spirit Houses and the worthwhile stuff like not having to look at someones crusty feet.
Gary and I recently had a discussion how monks buying computer games and listening to ipods can't possibly make them proper monks either. Oh by the way the Thais aren't completely chilled out, perfect human beings- they do get very competetive when the bets come out at snooker etc.
The top two pics sum up my journey to find my drinking boots again 6 weeks in and again the Thais and their cheeky sense of humour in a parallel world of embarassment about the most normal things.
The glass of Singha looks like amber nectar but is in fact gut rot, especially in the mini draft towers that most bars do- the other local devil's urine Chang beer seems to go down much better but is an unregulated 6.5% and mostly much stronger which is why I and a few of my colleagues have collapsed, puked and shat their way into a few Saturday and Sunday mornings. The best bet seems to be paying an extra 20-40p for a bottle of Heineken or trying to source out 'Leo' another local fave- it certainly suits me to get on the whiskey and sodas asap if my body's going to hold out! We're trying to steer away from the boozing though and have recently took up the 'lot more difficult than I remembered' Badminton and will soon be away again on a rock climbing/abseiling weekend up country.
So until next time- sawadee krap.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Let's offroad!

Here are some more pictures of us on our latest adventure up country in Thailand.

White water rafting, 5 to a room sharing, blubber avoiding, fat kid taunting, quad biking, paint balling, karaokeing, drinking, ant busting and dreaming, sweaty football playing, high wiring, target shooting. (if only my English support group were reading this they'd soon pick up continuous verbs)

All for £30 each. Extreeeeeeme!

Pics courtesy of Andrea and Hannah most probably.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Moped capers!

Well, as J said, after an almost euphoric teaching week (believe me, going from what we left to what we have now-this is heaven!), we decided to go to the beach. The head of Primary organised a bit of a staff school trip to Koh Samed. Now I'm not one for big, jolly capers with school but the idea of 2 nights at a beach resort for about 20 quid each (that I didn't have to organise) seemed like a dream come true.

So after work on the Friday, after an hour and a half's wait for the bus, we boarded our mini bus and set off. We arrived some hours later to a waiting speed boat. At this point, in the dark, I was a bit nervous. Two and a bit days on a desert island with 20-odd other people you don't know brought visions of 'The Beach' and 'Lord of the Flies' springing to mind! The speed boat trip, which was so choppy I thought I'd dislocated my hip, didn't help. However, Samed was great. Small enough for a really good weekend break.

After a boozy Friday night (not us you understand-we merely observed!), we decided to spend Saturday on mopeds!

Samed was a funny old place. We rented 3 mopeds on one driving licence (mine) and paid 6 quid each for 24 hours-bargain.

I had very specifically informed J from days before that I wouldn't be getting on one of those things and I certainly wouldn't be under those road conditions. An hour later, I was perched on the back trying to look cool. And failing.

Was great fun though as we rode to the other end of the island and found a very swanky little beach resort. Bit too swanky for me in my mucky shorts and pyjama top (don't ask, long story). The sea was so warm it was like taking a hot bath. Just glorious.

After such a fab and relaxing day, it was a bit hairy taking the bikes back in the dark on the rather uneven roads. My hips, which had not recovered from the speed boat trip the day before, were further bashed about as the bike had no suspension. Despite this, I was having a grand old time and forgot (most of the time) that we were uninsured, had old bikes and no helmets. Wrong.

Anyway, while J leaves me to go on a school trip (with real kids this time; not overgrown ones) I am trying to find a fitness class. I'm a little bored at the gym so thought a class might juj things up a bit. Yesterday, I saw around 250 women doing a mass aerobic workout in the Tesco carpark. I was the only person who stood open-mouthed and paralysed at the sight so, I'm assuming, this is a regular occurance. Not for me I don't think...

Monday, 24 August 2009

No-one ever had it so good...

We are now a week into the new job and although it's early doors we both feel it's the best decision either of us have ever made.

The school is just amazing and every teacher seems to feel the same even 2/3 years into the job.

There really is nothing to dislike about it. (apart from the early start- up at 6am and in work at 7:05- kids to follow at 7:45!)

We have just returned from a great weekend in Ko Samet (about 3 hours from Bangkok) with 20 odd other teachers and it really was a pleasure to get up from work on a Monday morning for once.

The children, although extremely priviliged are simply delightful- friendly and enthusiastic- like a kind of throwback to a 50s boarder from those afternoon black and white films where the actors/kids looked about 30 or perhaps Asian extras from the latest Harry Potter film.

The facilities in the school are wonderful and it really feels good to have some enthuisiasm for the job again. I'm even enjoying marking books as I know it will be appreciated by the children who actually find it a necessity to improve all the time.

The two lessons off a day mean we are planning interesting lessons for once and we are happy to evidence all our planning as we are proud of what we are doing.

I'm off on a three day field trip in a fortnight to the ancient city of Ayutthaya and I'm actually looking forward to spending some time with the Y9 kids!

Would love to put some pics of the school but unfortunately some dodgy sites of live Championship football streaming have put pay to the laptop for a while.

In the meantime here is the official school website with their guided tour- that's me beaming and giving it some English teacher style in the third window on the left...


Friday, 7 August 2009

Bangkok-The city of the pink taxi

Unlike J, I haven't posted anything on here apart from the very first post. There are several reasons for this: having a complete lack of anything more to add to what J had already said, too much tele-watching and, ultimately, believing that I'd have plenty to say once we were here. That final point being absolutely true. I feel like I haven't shut up about this place since I got off the plane (I think I'm beginning to give J earache).

The last few days at Gladys Road were rather emotional. It's funny what saying goodbye to a few bricks can do to a woman. That topped with having to say goodbye to all my family and friends left me, well, a little nervous and shaken. However, coming to Bangkok has blown me away.

I had done no research of Bangkok before we got here. Absolutely none. Whilst J looked up street names, the culture and general Thai life, I did the ostrich trick and firmly kept my head stuck in the Birmingham sand. I read no posts. I looked at no pictures and generally did no preparation. Even on the plane over here, I chose to forgo reading the Bangkok guide book Jhad bought at the airport's WH Smiths and chose to read Julie Walters' autobiography instead. Immersed in Smethwick to the very last! The rationale behind all this was that I figured nothing was likely to prepare me for Bangkok and, therefore, research would either ensure panic or feed me misinformation. I came to the city completely blind.

Bangkok is amazing.
Reasons? It smells all the time. Well, actually stinks! Bangkok's air is heavy with the aroma of sewers, car fumes and cooking fat. Although this should bring on nausea, I actually really like it (not sure J would agree with me here!). I love the fact that there is bottle-neck traffic at 11pm at night. I love the fact there are shocking pink taxis!! I love the way Thais speak as though they are singing and that the shopping malls are always packed, although most people don't appear to buy anything apart from food (people after my own heart)!
The first few days here were a bit of a blur. However, we appear to have set up proper grown-up lives without realising it. I do keep forgetting that we are supposed to be working here and this isn't just an extended jolly. Everything is so exciting!

Inevitably, some things do bring you back down to Earth. Like being woken up at 5am by the 'Big Ben'esque chime of the 'Magical Kingdom' go-karting clock half a mile away. Or stepping over very flea-bitten, pitiful-looking, stray dogs just to get down the street. Or the shipping company sending your stuff to some port south of Bangkok and neglecting to tell you that in order to get it, you had to pay for it all over again! Please don't ask me about that one-I have been having nightmares about it and the urge to kill the shipping representative in Bristol is really strong...

Despite these very minor setbacks, we really do like it here. I absolutely love the apartment and cannot hide my excitement at being able to give my dirty washing to laundry owner Madam Gee (part colourful auntie, part Del-boy entrepreneur) and have it back the next day clean and ironed all for £2! Thank you Jesus!
Let's hope going back to work (which, let's face it, we've sort of forgotten how to do!) is as an enjoyable experience as our first impressions of Bangkok have been...

Thursday, 6 August 2009

We're here/there/everywhere

As the title says, we're two weeks in and already it's feeling like home- well it better had as we're stuck here now!

The flight was a bit of a killer especially when great things were promised by those in the know who said Qatar were BA class- not what we found at all. Two hours late and no word from anybody official as Heathrow was closing down late on a Friday night, then my TV didn't work! A interrupted sleep and six hours later (plus the delayed two hours) we were in the desert and dragged through Doha Airport to catch the luckily held back connecting flight (spared us the wait I suppose) and to be met by a sea of disgruntled lefty type Italian and French holidaymakers...

Some pantaloon wearing wannabe hippy even daring to put her seat back on a 6' 4" Brit- she was soon put in her place and back upright- luckily the Frogs don't like a fight and her elderly husband just Galically and garlically shrugged- I jest of course but only a little.

Again my TV did not work and I had to swap places with D to watch 'I love you, man' which was actually quite funny. We finally landed at 2pm GMT and 8pm local time after 14 hours which is the longest I've ever been in the air- can't imagine we'll be doing that very often, so people will just have to visit won't you...

The new airport in BKK was a bit weird as it's never nice to be greeted by surgical mask wearing officials when you're new to a country. What seemed like a long and tedious afters through the rigma of passports and visa checking we were pleased to see that the new hard suitcases were here, intact and not damaged after their maiden voyage.

With the £4500 in my laptop bag we gingerly stepped out into the airport arrival lounge hoping to see the smiling face of the representative of our new employer- only to realise she wasn't there. D then decided she needed the toilet and left me with everything to search down the other end of the airport! In the meantime a broken English call for 'Jnatan Boot' over the tannoy made me feel like James Bond for a moment, although I was brought down to earth as I don't recall the story where Bond pushes three bags up the escalator frantically while arguing the toss over which meeting point the unhelpful customer service rep had suggested. More 'Duty Free' than 'Live and Let Die'...

Luckily we were greeted by the delightful Pat and after a short minibus ride over flyovers that resembled an 'exotic spaghetti junction' we were left with some paperwork (at the infamous Louis' Tavern- a kind of halfway limbo house for St Steve's staff passing over to the other side)and told to be up at 9:00 to go flat hunting...

Coming next time: The flat hunting and exploring days...

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Half the world away (nearly)

I promised some exclusive pictures of packing cases and empty rooms and the like, so here they are.

I think we've managed to get around to see everyone and what fun it was too.

Speak soon, when we're half the world away...

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Calendar for your cheap holiday in Bangkok

I'm sure I'll work out how to permanently pin this on the Blog eventually.

However, here is the definitive final draft of our school calendar for 2009/10.


Check out this website: http://www.netflights.com/?refid=nfgb&partner=google&adgroup=Flights_Brand&googlekeyword=airline+network&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=airline

for cheap flights to BKK (thanks to Mr J. Coath and his Bangkok connections- say no more, wink wink, nudge, nudge etc)

You'll need to monitor it regularly to get the flights around £300 and book accordingly- don't worry about transfers from either Bangkok airport, we'll sort this- just bring your spending money!

Please let us know, via facebook, the blog or email (perhaps even in person or long handwriting on Basildon Bond paper for you oldies) when you'd like to come.

Apart from family, it's first come first served.

We are off on the weeks that are in purple, however, we won't be in BKK at Christmas 2009.

Folks are welcome when we're not there or if we're at work (don't all cheer and plump for these weeks either...)

Hope to see you there.

J and D

One doth journey south?

Journeying south has always brought me a lot of pleasure...

It's something I also try to keep quiet. (shhhhhhhhhh...)

Most northerners would like to pretend that, despite the concentration of the nation's wealth being unfairly proportioned in the south east, (this wealth built up by the industrial north and the midlands- with a bit of slave trading from Brizzle and Liddypool) we don't like, want anything to do with and would prefer to not mention- that London and anything to do with the ridiculously named Blandshire and Forgetthenamesex provinces around it!

Alan Partridge spells London, S.H.I.T.H.O.L.E with any train stopping on the way at: '...Disappointment, Backstabbing Central and Shattered Dreams Parkway...' (but he's from the carrot crunching capital of Nowheresville that is Norfolk- so what does he know!)

The slow but effectively cheap Chiltern Railway from Birmingham's Snow Hill station passes these places but secretly I and everyone else north of Watford always get quite excited when we recognise certain landmarks and the distinctive orange brickwork of suburban London as it comes into view.
See Larkin's poem 'The Whitsun Weddings' for a perfect literary example of what I mean. It might be me reaching middle age (there's no use denying it) but this is quintessentially what middle England is all about: heritage, nostalgia and sometimes mythical and real England that might have existed at some time when I wasn't yet in double figures- something that sadly might never return despite which political party you might vote for...

No plastic and artificial representation of culture in 21st century Britain in the shapes of super concerts by Blur, Springsteen or Take That, Rugby buggering of South Africa or glimpses of the new Wembley and Gay Pride can ever really make up for what has gone before and happily still remains in memory, perception and bricks and mortar in this part of the world.

However, I digress, we don't want to tell anyone but we (Professional Northerners and the like) get a bit giddy when we arrive in, especially on days like Friday 3rd with the glorious weather, our nation's capital.

We had a great weekend thanks to Parv and Jas in Harrow on the Friday and Rebecca and Lucy on the Saturday ably assisted by Row and Glenn. Visiting places that we've never been before: Harrow boys' school (the application is in the post) the Millennium bridge swinging and great views over London on the only day I've ever been when it rivals, aesthetically, any city in the world (I agree with Wordsworth here "Earth has not anything to show more fair..."), drinks on the Thames (£1 for a bag of crisps!) and staying in an exclusive, private W1 address for the first time ever...(no Travel Lodge this time...)

Saturday night out in Notting Hill and hearing about Madonna at the O2 at Marylebone station on Sunday morning from Niki and Sean.

Sadly no celebrity spotting this time to recall (how could Fisher from Home and Away ever be bettered in one of my first visits anyway) but lots of good memories of real people (great Londoners like Parv, Jas, Lucy, Rebecca, Glenn and Row and fuckwitted ones like the drunken weirdy-beardy who nearly got a Stannington kiss for his troubles) as we move from one great city to the next one halfway across the world and hopefully meet lots of new great friends from another great world capital.

And my ailments (like a visit to a spa town), seemingly clearing up. (see the last blog post) It must be all that pollution- roll on BKK and more black bogeys!