Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Peetim's Homestay

Our story left off in the early hours of Thursday morning, getting off the bus at an empty bus station we were told was Singburi. As the bus pulled away and we realized we were all alone, we hoped that was true.

We had planned ahead enough to buy a Thai sim card for our cell phone in Chiang Mai, so TJ dialed the phone number we had been given. After a few rings, I could tell someone had answered from TJ's half of the conversation: "We're at the Singburi bus station. No, not Bangkok. Singburi." Sound familiar?

Before long, TJ had convinced our host that we had, in fact, arrived in Singburi, and we were told to wait near the 7-11 for someone to pick us up. The morning is a bit of a blur after that. In my delirious state, we could have waited five minutes or thirty. At some point, a man in a pickup truck stopped and asked "Peetim's Homestay?" Our ride! We climbed into the back of his truck with our bags and tried to imagine where we were headed as he sped up. We had no idea.

When the truck came to a stop, the sky was beginning to brighten, and we could barely make out the roofline of the complex we had pulled into. This was no modest village home we had pulled into...it was a large, walled-in group of buildings, all connected by roofs of varying heights. Before we had time to wonder, "Where are we?", we were met by a small Thai woman in a housecoat. This was Peetim, our host! She quickly ushered us up a set of stairs and into a big, air-conditioned (!) room with several beds. When we wearily refused her offers of food and drink, she kindly told us to get some sleep. She would have lunch ready for us at noon, and we were free to sleep until then. It was the happiest I have ever been to fall into (lay gingerly on) a hard-as-rock Thai mattress. We were asleep in minutes, still wearing our travel clothes.

The mango tree outside our room.

We awoke to the promised lunch and a brief introduction to our afternoon. We were headed into town to visit an office building. This office had received a phone call a few weeks ago from someone speaking English, and the employees all avoided the phone call in a panic. The manager decided this was a problem and invited Peetim to teach his employees English. For the last two weeks, office work mostly stops from 1 - 4 pm while the employees sit in English class. For the next week, TJ and I, along with Peetim, are their English teachers.

To be honest, I was a little nervous about teaching English. TJ found this opportunity online, and while I hesitated, he wouldn't take No for an answer. So I decided to have an open mind and approach it like any other adventure on our trip. I felt a little better after we arrived and Peetim assured us she would walk us through everything. She didn't expect us to know what we were doing. My hesitation completely evaporated, though, when we walked into the classroom. Turns out, teaching English is lots of fun!

Now that we have four days of teaching under our belts, we are both pretty comfortable in the classroom. Our lessons range from naming colors and shapes to giving a brief history lesson of the United States to acting like different animals. Peetim usually has a general plan for how the day will unfold, but that plan is subject to change as our "trainees" ask questions and TJ and I give our input. Today, for example, we printed out lyrics to a sappy love song (Shalalalala by the Vengaboys) in English. After at least three exciting renditions of the song, complete with clapping and dancing, we moved onto the rest of the CD, picking songs people liked and having a karaoke party. To help them out, we connected our laptop to the room's projector and pulled up the song lyrics for everyone to follow. Never did I imagine that I would find myself in Thailand, dancing and singing into a microphone songs I had never heard before in front of a room full of people.

On Mondays, we learned, the employees in this office come to work dressed in full uniform. Monday also happened to be the day that TJ and I planned to teach our students the Hokey Pokey. What better way to help them practice right versus left? And that is how we ended up doing the Hokey Pokey with 20 Thai adults in uniform. Several times.

The biggest contribution TJ and I can make to our students' education is their pronunciation. Peetim was quick to point out that a Thai teacher can teach them the vocabulary, but she can't always teach them the correct pronunciation. We spend a good portion of the class everyday simply reciting words and phrases for the class to repeat after us. They are all such good sports that even repetition can be fun. Phonics, for example, are entirely different when you're working with a group of non-native English speakers. (Is that obvious? It had never occurred to me!) I am constantly reminded of my efforts to learn foreign languages. You know when someone says "No, not X, Y!" and both X and Y sound exactly the same to you? I'm learning that every language has those similarities.

Thai people, for example, have trouble hearing the difference between an L and an R. So the word "Lightning" often comes out sounding like "Rightning." T's and D's are (understandably) hard to distinguish as well, so words like "foot" and "food" (and even "fruit!") all sound the same. They are all extra conscious of saying "I like to eat food," rather than, "I like to eat foot." We repeat difficult words like these all the time, discussing how to form the sounds with correct lip and tongue placement. It is really a fascinating way to think about a language I take for granted daily.

Fish icecream from Peetim!
By far, the best part of the class is the attitude of the students. We are experiencing the generosity of Thailand at its best, and we are continually overwhelmed by it. Our students bring fresh fruits from their farms to share with us, they introduce us to new Thai treats from the bakery, and they invite us to their homes. Today, we bought ourselves a pizza for dinner, and it is very nearly the only money we have spent since we arrived in Singburi. The currency here seems to be friendship, rather than the Baht, and we are finding ourselves with lots of new friends. THIS is the Thailand we came here to see!

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