Day 87: I went to Laos

You know what it’s like. One minute you’re overcome with joy and sweet, sweet relief because you finished your CELTA and definitely didn’t fail and have TIME on your hands and are FREE godamnit! and can swim guilt-free in the pool at the prison/resort you’ve been confined to for the previous month… then the next you’ve had a real-life job offer and are facing the prospect of living in BANGKOK for an entire year doing ACTUAL work like a real human being.
It’s a toughie. I did what anyone would do in that situation: I went to Laos.

Laos is, naturally, chock full of people who have finished a CELTA course and are now contemplating an ELT career that, until scant days ago, seemed to be a million miles away. The reason it seems this way is possibly because I am travelling with 4 of my CELTA compadres, survivors all, and because when there are 5 of you travelling together you really seem to fill up a place. I suppose there are SOME people out there who haven’t just finished a CELTA. There’s a gulf between us, though. You start to feel that these non-CELTA types are just fakers, the easy chilled-out movers and shakers. They don’t know what the rest of us have been though. How can they ever understand? Don’t they feel the urge to translate things into phonetic script at 2am, just for fun? Where is there inclination to split Life into the structure of a skills-based lesson: where’s their gist task, their scanning task, their detail task? What about freer practice? Most importantly, why don’t they understand – I mean really understand – the breadth and depth of that most sacred of questions: HAS IT BEEN RAINING?

I say it like one thing led inexorably to the other. It didn’t, obvs. That’s not how life works.

We finished our CELTA and had a day and a half to relax. There was a party on the balcony outside our resources room, and we presented certificates to our students, then went out drinking with our trainers. There was a relaxed Final Friday and an exceptional evening in which we watched an old Christopher Lee Dracula movie in one of the classrooms and made tremendously, appallingly, DELICIOUSLY geeky cards for our trainers. Saturday was celebration day – we left Vadara, had dinner with aforementioned trainers, drank, danced.

We, the CELTA survivors, went back to the hostel I’d been in before the whole mad thing had even started, hung out on the balcony at JJs for a few days. There was a glorious trip to Pai – a beautiful, arty, hippy town in rolling hills. There was a pedicure massacre. There was a LOT of applying-for-jobs. Individuals left for new lives, elsewhere. A month is a long time to live cheek-by-jowl with others, highly stressed, coping/not-coping, encouraging, persuading, helping. Strangers become family and it’s as if they’ve ALWAYS been there, coming to your room at night with food offerings to pep you up, tide you over, getting you to laugh yourself silly when you’re wound tight with tomorrow’s lesson planning. Sad to say goodbye.

But the next thing you know a bunch of you are on the night train to Bangkok, I bunk-beds rocking and rattling along the tracks towards the bright lights and INTERVIEWS of the hottest city in the world (appazza). Then you’ve had an interview, a job offer – what’s a girl to do?! It hasn’t been a week since your course yet; you don’t even have your grades, surely you’re not prepared? You’re professional façade clearly works a treat, though. Show no fear.

Then it’s Khao San Road for another goodbye, and you’re all on a train again, in bunks, fan-cooled and sticky, hurtling towards Laos with job offers and consequences all up in the air. You don’t know where you’ll be in two weeks, let alone two months. Commit or don’t commit?

Right now I’m in the bottom bunk in the Wizard dorm of Sihome hostel in Vientiane, capital city of Laos, tapping this tripe out on Libby’s Macbook Air – an incredible machine that my PC instincts can’t quite compute. Libby, Emma and Johnny are in their beds, chatting. Rosa’s on the floor preparing her bag for tomorrow when we head to Vang Vieng. I don’t know if that’s how you spell it but we’re going there anyway, balls to the spelling. Then in just over 2 weeks I’ll be back in Bangkok, about to start work with a reputable language company, signing a contract that’ll last a year. No idea where I’ll live or who I’ll be friends with. All I know is that I’ll be working my little socks off and using the qualification I worked so damn hard for.

It’s been 87 days since I left Leeds, and I’m in Laos. I’m pretty damn happy about that.

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Day 73ish: CELTA. WK 3

Most intense and stressful week so far. Most of us spent the week with huge bags under our eyes, necking coffee, groaning, being unable to cope with usual amounts of stress.

Didn’t fail 2 TPs. Wrote audio script for TP6 overnight during lesson planning time. Still managed a ‘to standard’. Had PANCAAAAKES! Wrote assignment 3. Didn’t fail assignment 2. Sleep deprived. Fell into hysterics FREQUENTLY. Harmer’s hand technique. Lol. Did some classroom dancing. Learnt how to draw a dragon. Co-created incredible literary gem about dragons and mermaids. Drew comic strip about the adventures of the Enigmatic Electric Eel man and his sidekick Mr. Crabs, the sworn enemies of evil Sponge Bob Square Pants. Copyright’s mine. Back off, kids.

Had nightmare that CELTA trainer was hiding under my bed and standing in my room JUDGING me. Had to get up, turn light on, check, lock door. Hilair. Slept until 9am twice this weekend. Stayed up working until 2am regularly throughout the week. Weekend jaunt to Fuckin’-Awesome C. Midweek trip to 7/11. Ate roti. Was amaze. Pool is algae-filled but no-one’s had much time to use it.

Only 1 week to go then we get shoved off the edge of the known world into whatever comes next. Bit scared. Feels weird that in a couple of weeks there’ll be other trainees here, taking our place, using our classrooms, messing up our resources room, swimming in our pool, writing on our whiteboards, learning from our trainers. Stressing. Getting hysterical. Bonding. Poor, lucky bastards – they don’t know what they’re getting themselves into.

2 lessons and 1 assignment to go (plus possible revisions for assignment 3).

Wish me luck.

Dragon story pic

Day 67ish: CELTA WK2

CELTA WK2. D1

DON’T TALK TO ME, I’M FRANTICALLY LESSON PLANNING!

Skills to work on: productivity, time management, not procrastinating by spending hours on Google images searching for the perfect picture to go with my activity.

Food eaten: ALL

CELTA WK2. D2

Woke to dulcet tones of Chiang Mai morning chorus (street dog remix). Think dog asylum. Think battle cries. Howling and barking like it’s the end of the world. Plus the pubescent comedy cockerels who can’t carry a full crow yet because their voices keep breaking. There are a few birds in the mix too, but mostly it’s just deranged dogs and cockerels. Disturbing.

CELTA. WK2. D3

Not teaching today and not writing an assignment. Went totes crazy and took 8 mins of personal time to PAINT MY FUCKIN’ TOENAILS, BABY. Took insane pleasure from it. Now looks like I’ve 10 teeny-tiny disco balls stuck to the tops of my toes. Bizarrely satisfying. Keep getting distracted during input sessions. Yes, I’d love to talk to you about voiced alveolar fricatives, Percy, but have you SEEN my toenails?!

8 mins of personal time, though. I’ll regret that later.

(Pancake sightings: zero)

CELTA. WK2. D4

Locked self out of room for 3rd time this morning. Helpfully had left both floor-to-ceiling windows wide open so just stepped in through the netting. No-one saw the hilarity. Was mildly disappointed.

Got assignment back. Passed, astoundingly. Had mid-point tutorial. Didn’t fail. I AM MADE OF RELIEF. Took evening off, sat in pool after dark with The Gang; chatted, watched a storm roll in. Power kept going out. Pretty exciting to be in the pool in darkness watching sheet lightening in the distance. Everyone chilled, happy. It’s that Thriday feeling.

(Still no pancakes)

CELTA. WK2. D5

TOO MUCH CHILL! A day of no structure and all fear. Start to  plan our own lessons FROM SCRATCH for next week. Also move up a level to Pre-Intermediate learners. Tired and full of aches and snot and grump. Ate 2 oranges to boost vitamin C levels. Early night required.

CELTA. WK2. D6

Another day, another after-dark storm. Power out for hours. We sat in the resources room chatting by candlelight, eating snacks and talking about ghost stories but not telling them. The “Drip, drip, drip” story we told as kids was also told by another Brit and a girl from Canada, each version slightly different but the basics all the same. Sheet lightening over the mountains but – weirdly – no rain.

Productivity = 45%

Mosquitovity = 87%

CELTA. WK2. D7

I NEED THOSE 8 MINS OF PERSONAL TIME BACK! Disco nail polish flaking off in dramatic chunks. Toes look like disappointment and shards of shattered hope. Got some good streetfood from the market and ate it, along with everything else in the world and more. May have caused whole-Earth famine. Sorry about that. Discovered that the birds I thought were hiccuping “FUCKIT! FUCKIT!” at night are actually geckos hiccuping “FUCKIT! FUCKIT!” at night. Geckos look so innocent – you’d never think it of them.

Fully expect CELTA WK3 to send me over the edge. Watch this space.

(STILL NO PANCAKES. I HAVE LACK-OF-PANCAKE RAGE.)

Day 60ish: CELTA WK1

CELTA. WK1. D1 – Beginnings

Slept through yoga. Toothpaste had ants in it. Brushed anyway – I’m not a vegetarian so why worry. Met trainers. Learnt some Arabic. Did CELTA stuff. Knackered by 5pm. Downed 3 cups of coffee and 6 custard pastry balls due to stress of discovering I’m scheduled to teach 45 minute grammar lesson TOMOZ. As if. Had caffeine headache. Back to classroom for practice observation. Wasn’t sure what I was supposed to observe. Made notes on things anyway. Made awkward cultural faux pa at earliest opportunity by writing name on whiteboard in RED PEN. Played board game with students. Felt happy. Ate dinner. Went to room to do homework and planning, dithered until early following morning.

***

CELTA. WK1. D2 – First Teaching Practice (TP)

First TP is majestic in the scope and absoluteness of its failure.

***

CELTA. WK1. D3 – Humiliation

Woke up with swollen eyes and no water for the taps, shower or toilet. Considered missing breakfast due to humiliation but Wednesday is Pancake day so forced myself. It reflected all the author’s disappointed hopes and dreams: THERE WERE NO PANCAKES.

First input session today was how to teach the type of lesson I failed at teaching yesterday. Not that it would’ve helped too much through the strange glaze of panic.

TP feedback introduced with the sentence “WE ALL NEED TO THINK OF WAYS TO HELP SARAH”. Lolz. Got good advice from CELTA-mates and a grade sheet that says I managed to scrape a pass for the TP. Hanging on by the skin of my teeth.

Coffee-time cakes were banana muffins. Stole an extra one for my fridge.

TP2 tomorrow.

***

CELTA. WK1. D4 – Pancakes

Pancake Day finally happens but too stressed to enjoy it. These guys are NOT keeping to the food schedule and it’s fucking with my head.

Did TP2. Better than TP1 but still infinitely dull. Have lost ability to think creatively.

Dinner consisted of meat and inedible veg soup, which is a meal in itself, but also sweet and sour meat with rice. Two-dinner dinner. Win.

***

CELTA. WK1. D5 – Cabin Fever

Shit-ton of work on horizon but accidentally had fairly relaxed day. Wrote non-self-flagellating self-evaluation before 10am listening to LCD Soundsystem on max to prevent any accidental thinking. Input session on CCQs and phonetic alphabet. Ate weird mystery cake at “patisserie” time. Had second two-dinner dinner. Have put on approximately 74 stone since arriving due to enforced eating schedule. Can’t miss a meal because we’ve already paid for them. Still don’t understand why we sometimes get two dinners for our dinner. NOTHING MAKES SENSE. The water’s back on.

After TP (not mine) we went for BEERS at a pub called “Dog & Bone”, English-style, racist and sexist posters in the toilet for your reading pleasure. Leaving the complex was immense. Realised we’ve been in the same place for an entire week. Cabin fever.

Tomoz AM we’re doing a trip to Fucking Amazing C, then doing assignments and planning until our eyes fall out. Sunday will be more working, hopefully finished in time to take Sunday PM off. TP3 on Monday.

Bleedin’ eck.

Bloody love it. Hate it. Love it.

You stay classy.

***

CELTA. WK1. D6 – PIZZA NIGHT

First day off. Woke up at 7am. Swam. Went for 20min jog. Hard. Hot. Worked on lesson planning for 2hrs; assessment for rest of day. THE REST OF THE WHOLE ENTIRE DAY. Hours and hours and hours. Lunch at computer in resources room.  Stepped away at 6pm to go to shop for coffee, fizzy drinks and beer. Came back. Kicked group work-sharing/pizza-eating session into action. Pizzas were the size of wagon wheels. Talked through our work listening to Bob Marley – it was like being back in last week with all the terrible dancing at the Reggae bar, except not.

Communal working’s the best way to do it – everyone together, nobody left behind. Work alone on this stuff for too long and you go crazy. Staring at the screen for two hours without doing any ACTUAL work.

Made surprising impassioned speech in support of the CELTA way of teaching: total immersion, no holds barred. Just like our students. Fuckin’ tough though. Learning Old Norse was a doddle in comparison.

Just past midnight. Washed pants in the sink. Tidied room. Damn tired. Brain active again and it’s a nice feeling. Or, at least, it is now. Wait until I fail my assignment – I’ll be spitting fire. Best do a bit more before I sleep. Tomorrow the fun continues. Aim: finish lesson planning in time for Sunday Walking Street market. Wild.

***

CELTA. WK1. D7 – Only work exists

It’s past midnight. I can legitimately say that I survived CELTA, WK1.

Didn’t make it to Sunday Walking Street, obvs. It was a pipe dream. More hours than you’d ever believe could fit into a single weekend have been spent on assignment 1 and lesson planning and neither are finished. On the plus (or minus) side, the future perfect is now both my favourite and my least favourite of all the tenses.

Today was a hard day. Had anxiety dreams all last night: exciting dream adventures but also exhausting. Spent most of today distracted, unfocused, stressed. Did a small jog and had a float in the pool again this morning.

Back to delicious food but enforced mealtimes tomorrow. Input sessions start again. TP3 tomorrow afternoon. Assessment 1 for Tuesday. TP4 on Wednesday. Pre-work for Assessment 2 needs to be done by Thursday. Literally no idea where the extra hours will come from. Be fine. BRING IT.

EDIT: If I sound grumpy, it’s only because I’m tired. It’s hard but GOOD. The people are ace. And check out the pool:

Sunset over pool

Day 52: EVERYTHING BEGINS (tomorrow)

I have arrived at my CELTA accommodation and tomorrow EVERYTHING BEGINS. I’m not even being dramatic except that I am. But, having said that, this might genuinely be my last entry for a while. It’s about to hit the fan and I may not get time to write about the splatter pattern. Upsetting.

At midday today I left the balcony that’s been my home for the past 11 days, and the narrow dorm bed I’ve shared with two 40l bags, and I’m now stretched out on a four-poster bed in an enormous room with pool view, a flat-screen LCD TV, an en-suite shower with three settings, one of which is “rain”, and enough space to swing a songthaew should the mood take me, the opportunity arise, and Herculean strength… etc, etc.

Yes, I am used to sleeping on only a sliver of mattress because my belongings were strewn all over my dorm bed. And yes, we mostly had no toilet paper because we had to buy our own. And yes, it was hotter than the sun. Life was rough at JJ’s. A girl had to be a little tougher to survive, had to be ready to kill if the situation arose. Here things are different. Yes, my room has a desk, a dressing table, a complimentary dressing gown and two large comfortable chairs with a little table for – presumably – Thai afternoon tea. Yes, there are two beds in case sleeping in one becomes too dull. And yes, my towels are changed twice weekly. But I’m not going to let it change me as a person. Deep down, I’m still the rough-and-ready adventurer you all know and loathe. Promise, yo.

Today I met 8 of my CELTA-mates. I happened to meet another at JJ’s a couple of days ago on the Balcony of Dreams, so we came here together. She was a children’s book editor for 12 years in Sydney so naturally I am in awe of her a bit. She’s also seen Robert McKee speak. Twice. If that means nothing to you then you obviously have a heart of stone, or didn’t go to Bretton Hall from 2003 – 2006, or haven’t seen Adaptation, or aren’t that interested in writing. So far my CELTA-mates seem like nice, normal human beings. I can only hope that this is a deceptive facade. We ate dinner together tonight but none of them exhibited any signs. It’s early, though. I can wait.

We got here at 2pm, settled in, had a swim in the pool, and then went on a shopping trip to Big C. “Big C” is a rubbish name for Big C. At the very least it should be called “Fucking Enormous C” or “I’ve Never C-n Anything Like This Before In My Life” (LOLZ I MADE A JOKE!). It’s like a supermarket except not. It’s like a supermarket that sells everything the world has to offer, but that also has a food court with ALL food, and also food stalls with additional food, and also an indoor market selling ALL objects that exist, and also plural actual shops selling further multitudes of objects, just in case ALL the objects that exist weren’t quite enough. We went to get stationary but I got distracted by the snacks isle and came away with mostly crisps and wasabe-covered things, and a pack of panic-bought A4 paper I picked up when – at the last minute – one of the guys reminded me what we’d actually come for. Then I thought I’d lost the room key that I haven’t paid a 1,000 baht deposit for, but turns out it was stuck in the lining of my expensive £2 bag which has huge holes in the bottom.

My Chiang Mai experience had continued to be wonderful, by the way. Some brillzville people left, other brillzville people arrived. I had a prison massage (incredible, relaxing, non-stabby), watched Muay Thai (5-way blind fight = hilarious; professional fight = captivating) and went to the Reggae bar so many times I’d memorised the playlist. Hartley and Callie (<3) came in from Laos so we went dancing, had a kebab, and then this morning they separated after 4 months of travelling together.  Last night we ate ourselves into celebratory/lamentory food comas, a result of getting over-excited by a sushi and shabu-shabu buffet. I ate not brains and a mushroom that was actually a bit of squid. Could happen to anyone. Temperatures in the city continued to be crazy-high; people continued to melt away. Time passed.

Anyway, I’m falling asleep. It’s almost midnight and I have a paper to read and an impromptu yoga class to get up for in the morning. As well as the entire first day of CELTA. Already anxious.

Before I go, I would just like to say the following to my Gma, who is reading this blog post on paper because my dad prints out each entry in Germany and posts them to her in the UK so she doesn’t miss out: HI GMA! I MISS YOU! I HAVE BROKEN MY MOBILE PHONE BUT I WILL SEND YOU A POSTCARD OR LETTER SOON. AND I WILL TRY TO PHONE YOU AT SOME POINT AS WELL. I HOPE YOU’RE OK AND STAYING OUT OF TROUBLE. HUGS AND KISSES AND LOVE xxxxxx