Stuffing my face, mostly.

Still in the Big Kok. Still not dead. Not only am I not dead, I’m actually almost officially a teacher now. Got my certificate, got a job. Just waiting for the visa and the all-important first pay check.

I’m 3 weeks in and on the hunt for somewhere to live. Staying with my cousins is luxurious and free, but it’s miles from anywhere and I’m keen to have my own place again. Saw a place yesterday – bedsit, small, clean, has a balcony that faces onto another building. The mattress is covered in plastic faux leather and the windows don’t open. S’cheap though. Might move in, just for shits and giggs. Yeah, that’s right, giggs. I’m a teacher now, I don’t have time for two-syllable words (except for all the two-syllable words I have time for, obvs).

Living in Bangkok isn’t quite what I had in mind when I left, and I’m reserving judgement for now. The thing with big cities is that one is as the other is as the other. Same-same, as they say out here, only different. All buildings an’ that. Tall. Ugly. Impressive. It’s coming into rainy season and the storms are frequent, impressive. Pass me my thesaurus. Rain comes down like it’s the final judgement. Thunder cracks and sounds like you’re standing too close to someone shooting a gun – so bloody loud you can feel the air jolt. Lightening forks from the sky and it’s all National Geographic, up-close and personal, widescreen, HD. The heat is slimy and intense, and the smells too: filthy smog, sweet, charred meat, simmering broths, exhaust fumes that cling to the skin, piss, rot, coffee. Sometimes I pop into a 7/11 just to cool down and get a breath of fresh air before diving back into the furnace outside.

It takes me an hour and two separate modes of transport to get to work on a morning. All my most terrifying and lots of my most wonderful moments in Bangkok have been on the back of motorcycle taxis – crazy, dangerous, infinitely exciting. I work weekends and get Mondays and Tuesdays off.  I wear DRESSES now, like it’s normal. It’s not because I’ve suddenly developed fashion sense, it’s because I have to be smart and it’s too hot for trousers. I’ve walked for miles around the city in my free time, not going anywhere in particular, just following the roads, and yet I’ve hardly been anywhere – the Big Kok is enormous and there’s lots to pack in. The thing I did most when I first started wandering was exploring the shopping malls. I apologise for the Americanism but the British version, shopping centre, does nothing to convey the sheer scale of these things. I’m not a huge one for shopping but they’re IMPRESSIVE(that fucking word again), almost comical in their exaggeration, like upper-class caricatures of themselves. One has a massive multiplex cinema at the top and a bloody aquarium at the bottom.There’s MBK, a multi-story indoor market with food court and bowling, an entire floor devoted to mobile phone things, and, and, and. There’s a bowling “league” at work and I’m trying to bowl away my hatred of bowling in order to socialise. I even have bowling socks. Yeah, bowling socks, that’s right. Who wants to fucking touch me.

On work days, I’m up early and back late. I often bring work home. At least I don’t have to cook: I usually eat on the street or bring street food here to eat in the air-con. The street food is incredible. My favourites are ALL OF THE ONES. I don’t eat Pad Thai as often as you’d expect. I go for chicken noodle broth when I can get it (sometimes with a claw, sometimes with mystery objects that don’t taste like fish but are), or for Hainanese chicken and rice, or mystery curry, or simmered pork (<3), or Som Tam – Papaya salad – when it’s not so stuffed with chilli that it makes me feel like my tongue’s going to burn right out of my face. I often use the power of The Point, often go for things I couldn’t name in English let alone Thai, and I have yet to taste something I didn’t like. The other day I ate what I think were patties of deep-fried cornstarch with spinach inside. Sounds gross but it came with a mouthwatering sauce. They have corn on the cob for sale from vendors on the street and they dip it in salted sugar-water to cool it so you can eat it straight away. Meat or fish skewers are being grilled on every other street corner, and you can get a bag of sticky rice on the side for only 5 baht. They sell fried chicken everywhere, with chilli sauce if you want it, and whole salted fish, freshly grilled. I’ve not eaten one yet but it’s high on my list. I’m not keen on mango and sticky rice – the texture of the mango makes me squirm a bit – but BANANA and sticky rice is the food of the gods. I’ve only had it once, from a street food fair, but I’ve always half an eye open for it when I’m walking.

Ah, the food. Between that and the lack of elite roller derby madness, I’m twice the woman I used to be.

Day 112ish: All the way through

Day 112ish. It’s probably time to stop counting in days.

I am back in Bangkok. I am slightly hungover, damp from rainstorms, aching from having walked a million miles through the city in a single day, and happy all the way through.

From Vientaine we – the CELTA 5 – travelled north through mountainous Laos to breathtaking Vang Vieng, then still further north to Luang Prabang. In Vang Vieng we went tubing on the Nam Song the day after a rainstorm, the sky washed clean and the river golden brown and flowing despite the season; the following day we cycled to a shady lagoon, swam, explored a temple-cave, saw butterflies. In Luang Prabang we got up at dawn to watch the people of the town giving alms to the monks and visited pristine blue waterfalls. We also ate ALL the baguettes and were eaten by ALL the mosquitoes.

ImageTham Phu Kham Cave (Vang Vieng, Laos)

Rosa and I took a 2-day slow boat up the Mekong river to the Thai-Laos boarder. We crossed headed to Chiang Rai by public bus, ate Thai hot pot in an outdoor food court while ladyboys mimed the words to power ballads on a stage built for the purpose. Here Rosa and I parted company – I headed south to Lampang, a bustling little town chock full of Lanna-style buildings and a tourist attraction called “Numerous wooden poles”. Highly recommend. From there I headed further south to Sukhothai, almost slept through my stop but realised just in time, then on a songtaw to the old city met a girl who started my secondary school the same year I left. Finally, I headed back to sticky Bangkok to drink beer on a street corner with Tom of Cat Ba Quintet fame, and then 19 floors up in the Sky Hotel looking out over the city during a thunderstorm, and then the next day we got stranded in a zoo because of another downpour. I like Thailand in the rainy season – it’s unpredictable and exciting.

And suddenly, just like that, the travelling portion of this trip is over. Back to Real Life, where I have to be responsible and sensible and not be on the move and probably not have any adventures and have a job that will be busy and hard and keep me in one place for an entire year if it works out. Travelling makes me happy. I’ll miss it. I don’t really want to stop, in fact. By the time I get to pick up my bag and head out into the world again, I’ll be 30 years old.

I can’t bloody wait.

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.

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.)