“…credible and meaningful in foreign cultures.”

The university where I teach, Rajabhat Maha Sarakham, used to be a teacher’s training college. My uni is just one Rajabhat institute of about 40 spread all over Thailand, that were turned into universities by the king with something called the Rajabhat Act in 1995. Therefore, when we clean up, move, or renovate offices and I see asset tags with “teacher’s college” or the like, I know I’ve found something at least 17 years old, and sometimes much older.

The last time somebody cleaned out a storage room on the 3rd floor, above my office on the 2nd floor, a bunch of cool old stuff was put out to be thrown away. I’ve started documenting what I’ve saved, and this is one of my coolest finds:

 

I’d never even heard of the United States Information Agency before, and I can only assume that “U.S. Information Service” was an alternative name for the agency.

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Now if I can only find a working 16mm film projector!

Chris Delivery

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of being Chris Delivery’s bodyguard (I got the job by looking “ex-yakuza.”) Fortunately, there were no kidnapping or assassination attempts, but he did get jumped by several groups of screaming fans wanting autographs and v sign photos (and, I suspect, a romantic evening under a private mango tree).

The talk he gave at our university was heartfelt and entertaining, and a great success by any measure. Props to my friend, Ajarn Kedsiree Jumpeehom, for setting it up and thanks to Chris for putting on an awesome show.

For a television personality with several shows, books, and other assorted projects known to pretty much everybody in Thailand, Chris is humble and just a generally great guy; he pretty much hates being grouped in with the snobby TV star set and keeps it real. I pretty much flipped when I heard that he personally teaches all of the classes at his English School in Central World (there’s a list of other teachers there so maybe he teaches all of the classes some of the time).

Here’s some shots showing the venue (the Main Hall at Rajabhat Maha Sarakham) and the turnout (around 1,500 at the start by my count, plus many more walk-ins changing with students leaving for classes part way through)

Pre-show meet & greet:

Pictured: Dean Sunee, Aj. Mayuree, Aj. Teera, Aj. Kedsiree, Chris Delivery

 

Almost go time:

Gauging crowds by counting rows, but sorely needing a wider lens:

Gauging crowds with the motorcycle index:

Gauging crowds with the broken toilet index:

After we reached Khon Kaen Airport, my detail ended by safely escorting the principal to the secure area, and I immediately proceeded to the airport shop to acquire a cold six-pack. All members of the escort team proceeded to the nearest McDonalds and many freshly-constructed McRibs were consumed the way Buddha intended them to be, with a freezing can of Leo. All in all, it was a great day, even if I did crash my goddamn car to start it off.

RMU Freshman Molam Performance

Taken (shakily, sorry!) at dinner gathering for the International Conference on Science and Social Science / International Conference on Science and Agricultural Technology held at Rajabhat Maha Sarakham University in Thailand.

Being MC for an event means you get the closest seat to the stage!

I announced that it’s common practice to tip the performers if you like them, and I think the girls and the band made out pretty well…

lightened up

I’m socked in with extra work this week MCing for an international conference to be held at my school, Rajabhat Maha Sarakham University, tomorrow and the day after. This morning we held a rehearsal. To get in the mood, I poured cold water over my head after waking up and watched an episode of Louie before heading in — this is the best prep for public speaking that I’ve found.

A Tribute to Buildings 1&2, Rajabhat Maha Sarakham University

They are knocking down our “Little House on the Prairie” schoolhouses and will soon replace them with new facilities. They were probably the oldest buildings on campus with solid wood construction, and were a lot cooler than the concrete buildings that have come to represent typical SE Asian construction… In recent years, some of the rooms had been upgraded with whiteboards and sound systems, but there was nothing like going into class every morning and asking students to clean the blackboard erasers.

They would knock the erasers on the outside wall below the window sills, which is how students coming in late could hear that class was starting. These classrooms were a pain to teach in on the hottest days, but were still more comfortable than their modern uncooled counterparts in our newest buildings (one of which is the tallest building in Sarakham yet boasts classrooms with no AC, broken desks, and in the ghettoiest rooms, blackboards as well).

Photo by Aj. Manoon; used with his sister's permission <-- SE Asian due diligence

These were mostly used as auxiliary classrooms and our English program will eventually move from our home in an old administration building (Building 4) to the new buildings whenever they are finished. Reversely, the prior occupants of Buildings 1&2 (including Thai Dance, Music, and Thai Language departments) have come to replace the Law department in our building, so instead of meeting aspiring ambulance chasers in our hallways, we are now serenaded by glorious band practice sessions and Thai dancing below the stairwells. We’re so used to it. it’s hardly even surreal anymore..

Insecticide Spraying in Rural Thailand

UPDATE: I’ve added a video to the bottom of this post.


The first time I saw government spraying (fogging, really) in our neighborhood was last year. There was the sound of a lawnmower engine from a block away, and then a man with a backpack sprayer walked by on the street, spraying a dense, white fog over our front yard, which promptly blew through our open windows ala a 1940’s public service announcement/DDT promotion. The cloying stench of RAID remained on the house for a couple hours, and I had to wipe everything down before the kids got back.

Today, we got a twenty minute warning by a pickup truck broadcasting over a PA – “We are spraying for mosquitoes in five minutes. Remove young children from the area!” I started the car, threw the kids in, and Nam drove them to their grandparent’s house in her nightgown. As they pulled out of the driveway, I could hear the backpack sprayer’s engine a few blocks down.

Since we live in what has become a fairly upper-class neighborhood (3 years ago, it was just our house and one other in the middle of fields), many parents are taking heed and evacuating as I write this. And I saw the sprayer go down a side street a few minutes ago, and he had no frolicking entourage ala South Korea. People are smart enough to take this seriously.

The question is, is it necessary? What the local government is most concerned about, of course, is mosquito-borne disease like malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus, and any number of nasty strains of encephalitis. In fact, the last time we were in the children’s clinic, there were warnings about outbreaks of malaria and Japanese encephalitis somewhere in Maha Sarakham province (but not within 50 km of us). The short answer is, nobody knows for sure.

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The sprayer came and went. It is over this year. I have some video I will post later, but both my camera batteries are dead right now. A small gecko just fell off the eaves onto the stairs to our pavilion. He was writhing around for a couple seconds, but now he just looks out of it. Maybe he ate a tainted mozzie.

 

What’s going on (May 2011 edition)

So we went to Koh Samet for a few days with a bunch of my coworkers and some of their families. It was awesome, but I feel the need to write about what’s been happening around here before moving onto editing the trip photos and video.

Max and Mina started school on May 18. Max is now going to the demonstration school at the old Maha Sarakham University campus, very close to the Rajabhat University where I work, because his old school shut down at the end of the last term. Mina is going to a nursery school very close to Nam’s office, at the new Maha Sarakham University campus. Both of them were having a hard time the first week, but Mina seems to enjoy going now. Max has separation issues and still cries some mornings. Today it was very hard. Since they are the same issues I had when I was little, I end up spending most of the day wondering if he’s happy or not, and whether he will remember how he feels now when he grows up… I still remember holding onto my dad’s gold chain as hard as I could and crying my head off as a teacher tried to pry me away – then wondering 30 minutes later, as the tears dried, why I had felt so sad before. Anyway, watching your kids being unhappy has got to be one of the hardest things to face. I only take consolation in our after action reports when I pick him up from school and he says he had fun playing with his friends and doing art, dancing, eating paste, etc.

As I write this, my head is starting to hurt. Nam took me to Mahasarakham hospital today, where I had three warts from my head, one from my face, and several skin tags from my chest, back, and neck removed. The ones on my head were large and required excision, as well as four, two, and three stitches, respectively. There is probably a big enough area on my head unaffected enough to be able to lie face up on a pillow tonight. Stitches are scheduled to come out in a week, and the doctor told me not to try removing them myself, but I probably wouldn’t try anyway since I can’t see them (although being told not to try kind of makes it tempting — actually, maybe the doctor’s busy next week and doesn’t want to do it, so laid a reverse psychology trap…).

The decision to send Mina to school at one and a half years old was kind of forced on us. We lost Max’s beloved nanny back in March, when her husband cheated on her and she went suicidal. We looked after her as best we could, and started looking for another nanny. Long story short, it is hard to find good help these days. We make an effort to take care of our help and still… It’s just really hard. So we started looking at school as an alternative to Mina being watched at home by people we couldn’t trust 100%. Guess what, we would never leave her with someone we don’t trust. So she is going to school, and seems to be loving it now that she’s in the groove. She is the most precocious child her age we’ve ever seen, and that is why we worry about Max more than Mina at school.

My stream of consciousness is now being interrupted by burning sensations where my scalp is stitched up.

There was one sight at Koh Samet that really made a strong impression on us… We went on a snorkeling tour on a speedboat, and on the way back to our resort, stopped at a fish farm. It didn’t appear to be a commercial farming operation, rather it seemed to exist as a tourist attraction. There were many tour company boats docking up next to it at any given time (I never saw if we paid an entrance fee or not, I have a feeling each tour company pays and that part of our payment for the tour went toward that). The farm consisted of neighboring fish pens arranged in a grid; pens were square and consisted of a net suspended from steel frames tied to blue plastic 55 gallon drums upon which wooden catwalks were laid — the catwalks were approximately one foot in width. Nam carried Mina, and Max insisted on walking by himself to check out each pen of fish, so I held his hand and let him walk in front of me. Imagine my surprise as we slowly proceeded (LOOK, DADDY! FISHIES!!) past pens of barramundi, snapper, clownfish, pomfret, gouramis, jacks, and a sad-looking giant grouper and eventually came upon an open pen of sharks! Two zebra sharks and two leopard sharks, four or five feet long, swimming in never-ending circles and chomping on bait the tourists were throwing in! This being the biggest attraction, people were passing each other on the narrow catwalks and the entire structure was bobbing up and down from the shifting weight — I am SURE somebody has fallen in there before. I guess nobody’s gotten bitten, though, because the fact that the shark pen is uncovered just blew our minds. Max thought it was cool as hell, though (I did, too, but for different reasons — it was like hearing about renting RPGs and buying cows to shoot in Cambodia or something).

So the staff in the operating room today were really excited to have a foreigner to practice English on, and it was funny and surreal all wrapped into one as I listened to the molam tunes playing through a portable radio and smelled my flesh being cauterized while being asked if I “wanted more drug” or not (oh hell yes!). It reminded me of the time I got hit by a car on my scooter in Japan in the dead of winter, flew over the handle bars into a snowy rice field and banged my head hard enough to crack my helmet, then after a long ambulance ride and wait on a cold gurney, being told a one-word prognosis by the doctor: “Lobotomy.” Shit, I wish I’d had a video camera for that one…

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A picture’s worth a thousand words update:
Somebody’s photo of the fish farm
Somebody else’s photo of one of the sharks