Saturday, February 25, 2012


The Friday afternoon class of 2nd graders didn’t show up. This has been the pattern over the past six weeks, but over the past two they’ve arrived on time.   I busied myself with projects I’d been procrastinating:  cleaning out old crap left behind from previous teachers (my classroom was previously used as storage for a variety of random pre-school props), looking for my flashcard drawing marker that went MIA two days ago, and submitting an application for a program coordinator with an international organization that provides services to Burmese refugees here in Thailand. 
Friday afternoons are always chaotic at the end of the school day.  Diyo, the PE teacher who acts like an assistant principal and loves the microphone, announces the winning team in the weekly trash collecting contest.  Blue team wins again, continuing their month-long streak.  I know my suggestion to implement new criteria (team red has never even made it to third place) will be lost in both translation and the school’s power dynamics.   Tuy gave me a lift home and while she enlisted my help in getting her new cellphone activated, her sister’s new puppy City  played around the floor and peed on the newspaper I’d suggested she use for training.City at 2 months old with his other toy. He actually tried to bite my ankles yesterday, not a good sign.
City at 2 months old with his other toy. He actually tried to bite my ankles yesterday, not a good sign.

Previously, Tuy had been mopping up the frequent messes with “napkins” (think facial tissue), which worked for this pint-size toddler that Nan purchased at the market for 1300 baht (about $40).   Tuy was off to spend the night at her friend Aon’s house.  I was going to ride my bike up to the Friday market and get dinner.  As I left, City was gnawing on the braided toy I made from string that secured the cell phone package that Tuy got from her dad this afternoon. 

Lifted from This is a roadsite market in Viet Nam but similar to an image I saw yesterday.
 This is a roadsite market in Viet Nam
but similar to an image I saw yesterday.
Lifted from
I hadn't been to the Friday market for a couple of months.  There are regularly scheduled weekday markets that seem to pop up around town.  Tuesday evenings there’s a used clothes market, this Friday night market for the local hood from the surrounding countryside and another big Sunday clothes market that brings in people from all over Kamphaeng Phet.   There are also the markets that appear like flash mobs, do their retail dance for some length of days and then disappear leaving behind the  opportunity to seize that special something that was noticed in the rounds and trashy detritus.    The amount of labor that it takes to set up and take down the displays is staggering. The more sophisticated vendors have shelves in the back of their box trucks, but the vendors on the neighborhood Friday market are pretty rough.

I appreciate the types of merchants I see there:  dark and earthy, these are the folks that have been farming for the rest of the week.  As I sauntered along the row of tables right next to the highway, I’m struck by the variety that were displayed in the waning sun.   Raw meats and fish (alas, the eels in the bucket were not moving either physically or as merchandise), a variety of produce including fruits, leafy greens, root vegetables, dried chilies and mushrooms, smoked fish fillets, half of a fried chicken that the vendor will gladly use a cleaver and chop (bones and all)  into edible bites for your home dining pleasure, and a variety of prepared entrees in the ubiquitous plastic bags with rubber bands on top.

I haven’t gotten the guts to try the grilled squid  on a stick so I stuck with the chicken.  As I was looking for vegetables, Nay (pronounced like nigh) appeared, in all of her 13 year old awkward glory.  Nay and her younger brother Riu are usually in my classroom after school has dismissed.   I usually give Riu a coloring sheet left over from my other classes and recently have been utilizing Nay’s copying abilities to help me with making flashcards for the kindergartners.   Nay never seems very comfortable with me.  I suspect much of it has to do with my stature, some with the language, and the last bit with adolescence.Valentine from Nay. Note her school picture on the left.
Valentine from Nay. Note her school picture on the left.
She follows me, looking a bit dumbstruck, as I say hello to her mother and father standing in front of a large tray of tempura vegetables and entire grilled fishes. I decide I’m going to score some for the home team and purchase, but Nay appears so nervous that she’s forgotten how to say 15 baht.  “Sib hah”, I confirm with her mother, and my package gets bundled up with a nice little packet of green chili as a side dish.  Nay’s father jokes “Twenty  five!” and Nay leaves to walk with me through the market. 

I ask her about the perfect squares of a crushed leafy green vegetable dish that I’d tried to last time I was here.  In a pattern that seems to recur with me, I realize that this item is not what I’d hoped it would be.  Apparently topped with some kind of animal fat as a congealing agent, these salty nuggets of seeming health were packing calories.  Nay lugs the small watermelon that made it into the weekend dining portfolio and stands with me while I consider the merits of the fresh little sesame seed dusted donut holes.

Toothpaste mistake.
Toothpaste mistake.
At last, we load everything in the bike basket and Nay heads off to help her folks at their food stand.  I decide to do a little more shopping at the sundry table to buy a trail size of a thai toothpaste to check out the brand.  I’m a bit gun shy after buying the “herbal” variety  and having it both taste and look like something that came out of City’s rear end. 

When I return to the bike Riu is calling, “teacher Ellen!” and Nay has returned with her mother’s cell phone.  Photos are taken with me and the children, including one I don’t know.  I get on the bike, wave goodbye and head home along the path that parallels the highway.

The house is empty when I return and I settle into eating dinner, reading the Huffington post app and shaking my head over the republican candidates. At 7:30, I decide its TV time.  One of my contacts in The World of People Under 25 Years Old has revealed to me the secret of The Pirate Bay, and for this I will have eternal mixed feelings.   I’ve caught up on a couple of my favorite shows, but now fear that I am hooked into this free media connection and losing my readerly/writerly edge and self-imposed monastic approach to life.  On the other hand, access to American TV shows has increased the self-entertainment factor that books couldn’t meet. Tonight,  I settled into a couple of episodes of Mad Men season 2.   Then took a shower, did the sinus rinse, set the timer on  the A/C for 3 hours and, in a lapse of very poor judgment, took the computer to bed for a third episode that took me way past my usual 10pm bedtime.

Overly sated on media as midnight approaches, I shut the computer and do the usual reading before bed. By now, my nose is running and I’m starting to cough. Horrors abound in the thought that I might be sick again.  Egads!  I’d fallen asleep without using the net pot the night before!  Could this have opened up the grain elevator of infection????   I turn the light back on.  30 minutes have transpired.  I read some more, until the eyes close but the bed light stays on. 

Then awake an hour later. Get up for a drink of water.  Look in the refrigerator. Pace the living room.   Read again and actually finish the book.  Then turn out light.  Thoughts race about the dentist appointment I need to make in Bangkok, the math on the number of blood glucose strips I have in stock until I can resupply, what this next, final month of the school year will entail, the teacher’s meeting I wasn’t invited to today (likely an oversight and they will be doing the entire thing in Thai anyway), what kind of shoes will I need in Tanzania, the fact that I was feeling a bit isolated and  bored at work today.

My back hurts and the shoulders are cement. These Thai beds are so hard. I have a fond memory of the man with a memory foam bed. Move my position so that my feet are on my pillow. Flip. Toss.  Turn.  If I ever have a relationship I must have my own sleep space for times like this.  Try to muster the brain do a nice little meditation but it won’t stay on the task.  Try to stretch, feebly. I long for the stupor of physical exhaustion.  Damn those donut holes.

The rooster starts as the morning light comes filtering in through the curtains.  My eyes feel like sandpaper.  I’m awake, but a bit listless about starting a day when I have only a few goals on the agenda, and no social opportunities on the horizon.   So I lie there and think for a while.   There is laundry, a hankering to explore the new way to the Big C for some shopping, research for Tanzania travel, a bike ride to the corner market for dinner and perhaps a movie. And, in the eternal optimism that characterizes my time here in Thailand, another opportunity to get a great night's sleep.

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