Wednesday, 15 October 2008

My Japanese Education (Part I)

Every now and then, I'm always amazed at the things I learn from my students. Every time that happens, I get really excited. Little do most people know, being a teacher means being forever a student.

Today my Japanese students taught me about "gratin," of which I didn't know what it was but my colleague did me a favor and googled the word. Gratin is a type of casserole. Well, the word alone is nothing to be excited about, but let me explain. Last week I was getting disheartened about the subject I'm teaching, ESL or English as a Second Language. I felt unmotivated that I'm teaching something so, so basic. Last year I was spouting Shakespeare sonnets. This year, I'm doing apples and oranges.

I miss doing gymnastics in my mind and having intellectual discussions with my students. My skills have been reduced to asking the simplest questions like "What's this?" or "What's that?" Never mind the whole higher level thinking. Picture word recognition is the key. Spelling. Ummm... That's another story when you try to explain the difference between "rice" and "lice," of which you may have to mime picking something out of your hair with your thumb and forefinger, make a disgusted face, and eventually flick it in the air, although some of my colleagues may opt to put it in their mouth for entertainment purposes.

On the flip side, I'm speaking a new language. I can now confidently say "sit down" and "be quiet" in Japanese. Counting from one to six, I've mastered that too.

Today a fifth grader made me laugh. This whole week, I've been teaching the same lesson on food. Most students would come up with typical food like rice, chicken, and salad on their menu. But not Yuki. He kept asking me non-stop how to spell red wine, beer, lobster, caviar, king salmon, shark fin soup, and fondue. Things that actually made me salivate.

I've also noticed the difference in attitude between Japanese and Indonesians. Indonesians put so much value in learning English. They gobbled up everything I taught, whether in a proper school or in an after school program. But not here at the Japanese school in Thailand. English is an add-on subject. Many students don't seem to care if they don't speak a lick of English, especially at the junior high level. Knowing English isn't considered a form of superiority to the Japanese. That is the first time I've encountered such a culture. So much pride and love for their own culture and language. It's not surprising that Japan is one of the world's leading countries. You can see it in their people. The discipline in how they eat is also mind blowing. I remember getting told off for chewing gum, during my free time. It's like gum and every kind of candy are forbidden on the premises. In other first world countries, kids struggle with the problem of obesity. Oh, not the Japanese. They don't even allow the kids here to eat snacks during the day. No other drinks except water and tea, which makes some of their teeth yellow. There's no canteen in the school. Every student brings their own food or order it through a Japanese catering service. They also don't drink soda. It's just not their habit! No wonder why Japan could recover so well financially after two nuclear bombs--by reducing their people's diets to the bare minimum. In all honesty, their level of discipline is not something to be trifled with, of which has led me to have much respect for my Japanese colleagues regarding work ethics. Sometimes I wonder if their bodies were made of machine.

Once again, I'm adjusting, the practice that seems to be the pattern of my life, and making the most of my opportunities. Learning from what I see and seeing them in new ways.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

On Matters of Talents & Dating Practices

I don't consider myself as someone with exceptional talents, but I've got some. Having been part of big churches like the OC or the Jakarta church, I only had offered one or two talents at most to serve others. Things like encouraging or serving others. I'm quite good at washing dishes by the way. When we had parties back in the US, I'd be the one to wash dishes. Strange to say, but I love washing dishes. I find it therapeutic since my job involves a considerable amount of brain work, I prefer to do things without having to think once in a while.

At this point I have to go off on a tangent and link the topic of washing dishes to dating. In our church, tradition has it that when disciples go on dates in the US, whoever asks the other out takes care of everything. For instance, if you ask somebody out and decide to prepare a meal at home, then you'll be doing both the cooking and cleaning. Fair enough since your date gets to feel like a prince or princess for the night. But in Australia, the rules are if you prepare the meal, your date washes the dishes. I was surprised when that first happened to me. By the time I made it down under, I was so conditioned to cook and clean on a date for my prince like a good Cinderella that I am. But soon I realized that when in Australia, do as the Australians do, as my modified version of the saying goes. That way we both can share the Cinderella experience together. Oh, so romantic!

Oh ya. Back on the whole talent thing.

I've been back in Thailand about two months now and I have done more for the Bangkok church than I probably did eight years in big churches. I got to share my life/preach for the first time to the single sisters at midweek. That was a nerve-wracking but worthwhile experience. All of it, the preparation, butterflies on stage, and cleaning up afterwards since I asked them to write down their anxieties on a piece of paper and physically cast them on the floor as a reminder of how Christ wants us to cast our anxieties on him. I'm also designated the interpreter now for the church. Sometimes, I get to joke around with my audience if I know who are listening. In addition, I'll begin translating sections of a book from English to Thai. That'd be interesting and daunting at the same time since I haven't written anything properly in Thai for fourteen years. But a friend told me not to worry because she'll ask somebody to translate my Thai into the normal Thai.

Yes, my Thai is still rusty and I still use wrong words here and there and mix some English words in my Thai. But I'm getting much better now.

All in all, I'm glad God has blessed me with talents and there's nothing better than using them to glorify him and to benefit his kingdom.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Stuck in a Storm

"Trust the squid. They know when something's up." ~Nina Chaiyapin

Many people like to metaphorically write about getting stuck in a storm to convey a sense of fear, frustration, and difficulty in their lives, but how many actually have been stuck in a real storm?

Well, in my case, I was literally in one this past Saturday.

It was a perfect leisurely afternoon while our family took a boat out to this makeshift hut/platform in the middle of the sea, off the coast of Lamchabang Sea Port, to go fishing. We had high hopes that we'd catch lots of fish, especially squid, since my brother just did it with his friend three weeks ago. Fishermen often have stories. My brother and friend, although not real fishermen, had their own.
They came back with more than 10 kg of large fish and squid and lots more they had to give away. Every time they cast the fishing line, they caught something. One after another. They barbecued the fish and squid right away. The meat tasted so sweet. So many fish. Wow, we were mesmerized by the magic of the fish and the sea.

Three weeks later he booked us the same boat. But this time our whole family and a few of my parents' employees went. There were ten of us.

After fishing for awhile, we didn't catch much that day. The men who took us out said because there had been more water coming down from the floods in northern provinces, raising the fresh water level in the sea. (Whatever they told us, we believed. What did we know about fishing anyway?) After a long time of not catching anything the men told us that we could use the net. The first time we let down the net, we caught so many squid and some fish. Everybody was excited that we got to eat finally. We barbecued the meat. Like my brother said, fresh seafood tasted so, so sweet. Before we decided to leave, the boat men said we should let down the net again and catch more fish/squid to bring home. Alright, let's do it. I was getting sleepy now that my stomach was full. But this time, we only caught some small fish and not even a single squid. Strange it seemed. Not a single one. In hindsight, I realized that the squid knew all along that something was up.

Soon the storm came. Around 9pm, right before we decided to go back to shore. It started with light showers. And within minutes, it began to pour. The rain sent us scrambling inside the bamboo shack, huddled together and curled up like balls, or rather runaway refugees. Whatever, at least we didn't have to get wet as we were waiting for the rain to stop. But it didn't. Instead, water started leaking down the tin roof, and I was getting uncomfortable. Some tried to cover themselves with plastic bags, but to no avail. More water came down and soaked many of us. My mom and I scooted all the way into a corner, sat in fetal position, and was spared of getting soaked. My dad shouted that all life savers be passed around, even though there were only six for the ten of us. Then the wind started howling and there was a loud crash against the bamboo stilts beneath us. A big jolt. Then another. And another. The hut started swaying out of control. So much rain outside now, we could only see gray. I was squeezing my mom's hand and wanted to cry, but nothing came out. I couldn't say anything. Fear reigned. A few of us tried to crack a joke, but no one laughed.

In silence, in fear, I started to think what would happen if the roof got blown off and we fell into the water. I could swim okay, but what about my mom. Which way would the current carry us? How about my dad? He's a good swimmer, but he hadn't swum for ages. Who else couldn't swim among us? Could we still communicate in panic? Another jolt. The hut started shaking like you were on a ride at an amusement park. More wind. Thunder. Another thunder in the sky as well as in my mind. I closed my eyes and prayed. I wanted to sleep and pretended nothing happened when I woke up. I still held on to my mom. Her face was so still. I couldn't tell if she was afraid or not.

After about an hour, the storm eventually subsided. Even though I had lots of scary thoughts on my mind, I also remembered the passage in the Scripture where Jesus and his disciples were on a boat when it was caught in a storm. Jesus fell asleep and the disciples were so scared, they woke him up. Remembering that gave me a slight hope. Maybe next time, I could at least be more calm in a storm, metaphorically or literally.

All in all, it was still an amazing experience so much so that my family and I couldn't stop talking about it. It was so awesome to be able to share something like that with my family. God had answered many of my prayers that night. Not only that we came out alive, but I got to share memorable experiences with my family. The thing that I have always craved for and don't have very much of.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Driving Mania

After having driven for 11 years, driving can still be a foreign thing to me. Over here, I have the habit of walking around to the left front door of the car, only to see the steering wheel on the right. (Did someone play a trick on me? ) When trying to turn on the light signals, the windshield wipers would be swooshing instead. 

The other day my mom took me driving, and I stopped the car at a stop sign. A proper thing to do, or so I thought. But no, my  mother wondered why I did such a thing. I said duh because there was a stop sign Ma. You'd get a big fine and Saturday traffic school if you don't stop. She simply responded, "Keep going. THIS is Thailand, you don't have to stop." But Ma.......

Another reality check on where I am, perhaps. Nonetheless I plan on stopping when I see a stop sign in the future anyway, but Ma doesn't have to know that, does she? 

Also today I took the driver's test and was sweating so badly when asked to parallel park, even though I can do it so easily in the US. Things that are second nature become so hard when you switch sides. Thinking about driving isn't fun. Also I asked too many questions to the examiner and, well, probably annoyed him a bit. Anyway, it doesn't matter if I almost failed. I wouldn't want to almost pass and spend another day at the Thai DMV. 

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Withdrawal Symptoms

No, I'm not addicted to drugs or alcohol. But I seem to go thru some kind of withdrawal every time I move countries--a problem that only some people can relate to, I presume.

This is the period when I miss so many friends, and because I've lived in three other countries, my heart is spread out that much. Since I joined the whole Facebook phenom, I've been trying my best to satisfy the desire to keep in touch. But it doesn't seem to be enough. What insatiable desire!

I constantly think about ways to visit my friends in different parts of the world. The drawback of having been to so many countries is that you don't have all your friends in one place.

Nevertheless, there's not much for me to do about that right now. I'm edging back into the real world of work and adjusting to my new life in Bangkok. Things are moving along fine. I hope to secure a two-year teaching stint at this Thai-Japanese Association School. It's probably the oldest international school in Bangkok, very well established and has rich resources and, needless to say, offers a generous teaching package to expats.

I'm also eyeing this cute apartment located on Ratchada Pisek, near the heart of Bangkok. Although it's a small studio apartment, but I can simply walk down and access a world of food. It's like having a feast all day, every day. Several expats also live on this street and many of my friends--a great location for doing ministry work.

Anyhow, the next step hinges on whether I get this teaching job or not. I'm still going through the whole Thai beauraucracy regarding foriegn hires. Pray for me yall, if you come across this little request.

p.s. I'm learning how to pray in Thai. It's a bit awkward but cute, I think.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Sawadee Ka Thailand

I'm entitling this link "My Thailand," just like this chick Kylie Kwong entitles her cooking show "My China." It sounds more personal.By the way, for your information, Siam is the old name of Thailand, just like Bangkok. The funny thing is that Thai people don't call their capital Bangkok anymore but Krungthep. But both can be used interchangably.

I've been back in Thailand a little over two weeks now. This time, I'm here to stay... for awhile anyway. My status is now changed from "forever tourist" to "resident." The adjustment period is considered mild, compared to what I went through in Indonesia. So many thanks to the country that had prepared me for Thailand in so many ways.