e martë, 31 korrik 2007

Delicious Thai Luncheon... with a "special" treat!

The rains are falling.... the ponds are full of intensively beautiful "Lotus" flowers... a colorful backdrop for a fantastic Thai lunch...

Lunch with Mr. Elvis and his family at their home. The large spread of very delicious looking Thai food was incredible.... baked fish, sour green vegetable soup, pig tongue, fried chicken wings, two kinds of spicy papaya salad with shrimp and peanuts, grass baskets with stickie rice .... all very delicious looking .... except for one plate of food....

Steamed baby chick embryo ... the baby chick is allowed to develop in the egg shell within just a few days of hatching. It is then steamed .... and from what the Thai tell me... it is very delicious!

I like Thai food.... I've eaten whole stir fried frog, came close to eating chopped duck with fresh uncooked duck blood... I've even eaten a oily tasting Water Beetle.... but this little steamed chick embryo....? No... I just couldn't gather enough strength to even try tasting it! Watching Mr. Elvis eat it was more than enough for me!

e shtunë, 28 korrik 2007

Thai Hermit Buddhist Monks

The special Jatukam Rammathep Ceremony at Wat Sisaket in Nongkhai brought Buddhist monks from throughout the northeastern part of Thailand to participate in this unusual event....

A number of Thai Buddhist "Hermit" monks also came to the event. This was the first time I ever had a chance to see these fascinating "Hermit" monks...

Dressed as a tiger... I only got a fleeting glimpse of this "Hermit" monk as he quickly disappeared following the chanting ceremony inside the temple.

The Thai people seemed to be as fascinated with this "Hermit" monk as I was, with many people wanting to talk with him or take a picture of him.

He lives in a cave near Udon, about an hour drive from Nongkhai. His uncut hair reaches to feet.

There are a number of "Hermit" monks scattered throughout Thailand, but this monk is the most famous .... and like the tiger colored "Hermit" monk... distant... and not easily photographed.

Special Jatukam Ceremony at Wat Sisaket

On July 28th, Wat Sisaket held a special and very unique ceremony to introduce the latest "Jatukam Rammathep" amulet that has been minted. This amulet is believed to have special lucky powers for anyone who wears it. Monks from all over northeastern Thailand arrived for this day of chanting.

Water from the sun filled these clay jars, into which this monk, believed to have extremely great "Vipassana" or "Insight Meditation" powers poured the flower pedals.

The clean the mind, body and spirit of evil... monks poured water from the water that had been bless, over each person's head...

Holy water flowed as the faithful stepped forward to receive this special blessing from a powerful monk on this day when "Jatukam Rammathep" was celebrated.

After receiving the water blessing, people lined up to have the golden mask placed on their heads.

Hinngompittyakom School pays respect to local temple before Buddhist Lent starts

Oh.... Nongkhai! And the famous Mekong River "Naga" who for centuries has been guarding the bones of Buddha that were lost when the ship sunk, on its way from India to Thailand, in this mighty river.

While teaching at Hinngompittyakom School this week, I had the opportunity to join the staff and students in a respect ceremony to the monks at a local temple. August 30th begins the three month Rainy Season... or Buddhist Lent period in Thailand. At the beginning of Lent... people pay their respect to the monks.

The ceremony began with my circling the small temple three times, with the Director of Hinngompittyakom School and Mr. Sungwan, one of the school's English teachers.

After chanting... I, along with other school staff members, offered gifts to the monks.

"English Camp" at BanFaPraTan Primary School

This primary school, located high on a mountain top a good two hour drive from Nongkhai was also the school of one of Mr. Elvis' colleagues. Having just gone through a kind of imprompu "English Camp" at the last school... I was a little better prepared for this "English Camp" when we arrived!

With three other Thai English teachers to help me, this "English Camp" began with my now trade mark.... "Head and shoulders ... knees and feet...." and quickly expanded into a whole variety of fun activities!

As music played, a ball was passed around the circle from student to student. When the music stopped, whoever was left holding the ball had to meet me in the center of the circle. In this young student's case... the question I asked him was.... "What sound does a pig make?" He then had to demonstrate!

"English Camp 2007" ended with the Director of the School giving me a basket filled with the local food.... bananas! And just the way I love them.... thinly sliced and deep fat fried!

And of course.... the obligatory group photo! The young male teacher with the black curly hair was the one who taught the students the following song.... with hand movements!

Pizza Hut... Pizza Hut
Kentucky Fried Chicken
And a Pizza Hut!

McDonalds.... McDonalds
Kentucky Fried Chicken
And a Pizza Hut!

"English Camp" at Kum Kam Primary School

One day Mr. Elvis invited me to visit the schools of a couple of his Director colleagues. Little did I know however, that my visit to their schools, also promoted them to organize an "English Camp" event in honor of my visit!

So what do you think this student is thinking?

With being given about two seconds to organize my thoughts for this school's "English Camp" I decided to teach this primary school students... "Head and shoulders.... knees and feet!"

At the end of the hour or so of "English Camp" the obligatory group photo!

e hënë, 23 korrik 2007

My "STAR" Teacher status at Hinngompittyakom High School!

I was made to feel like a "Super" Star when I arrived at the Hinngompittyakom High School! Everyone from the Principal, to the teachers, to the students greeted me so warmly and with such enthusiam.... I felt like pop star!

Hinngompittyakom High School was the first school in Thailand where I began my volunteer teaching some five years ago. I get the feeling that my teaching career has become rather legendary at this school... as well as thoughout Thailand too! It was here I was given the name... "Ajaan T" .... "Ajaan" being a revered title given only to monks and University Professors.

The comment I get most often from the administration as well as the students is "When you speak English, you speak very clearly so I can understand you." That plus all the interactive, student focused instructional strategies I've learned while teaching in Rialto Unified School District in California, have made my Thai classrooms rather animated! I really enjoy teaching these students!

Having the Thai students speak English is the focus of my classroom instruction. In this lesson, a group of 7 students tell their classmates "My favorite food is...." The kicker however is that they must remember and say all the foods the other students have mentioned before they list their own favorite food.

By the time the last student gets to tell the class what their favorite food is, they must also repeat the favorite foods of all the other six students! Quite a challenge for these sometimes shy students!

After teaching all day at Hinngompittyakom High School, I returned back to Nongkhai only to more teaching... now with my good friend, Phra (monk) Sanya at Wat Sisaket! These were the same novice monks I taught last year. This year however, they were full of questions for me!

e enjte, 19 korrik 2007

Hmmm tasty! Eating "Water Beetles" in Cambodia!

What's that old saying.... When in Rome do as.....

So... when in Cambodia, eat like the Cambodians! But eat fried "Water Beetles?"

A whole bag of these little slippery fried "Water Beetles" doesn't cost that much, and the locals love them! I watched a friend smack his lips as he methodically cleaned the "Water Beetles" before popping them into his mouth. Solasi, a young Canadian Khmer now now traveling in Cambodia has been my local guide for the last few days.... showing me Siem Reap and explaining the local culture. His parents escaped to Canada from Cambodia in 1975 just as the Khmer Rouge took power. Solasi was 5 years old at the time, so has some strong memories of that brutal time in Cambodia's history.

In addition to having lengthy philosophical discussions on life with him, Solasi showed me the best places to eat, which restaurants served the strongest coffee, and with his Khmer girl friend, took me to some of the really hot (literally and figuratively) discos in town! Quite a learning experience for me! I'm mean... not often do I get home at 1:30 a.m. from a night of .... well... a night of partying!

But back to the "Water Beetles!"

Quite a process to prepare the oily little black critters before one can pop them into one's mouth.... First the six legs need to be removed.... then... this very hard and sharp barb that protrudes from its abdomen needs to be snapped off without jabbing it into one's fingers.... next the hard outer shell that cover its back needs to be removed... and last but not least... both of the wings must be pulled off. Whew! I'm tired again from just thinking about it!

Now the four steps really should sound relatively easy..... right? Yes they should be easy, but for a novice like me... it took me forever to painstakingly get the bug ready so that I could eat it! Since they are cooked in oil, the bugs are extremely slippery and at several points, the bug flew out of my hands and across the table.
Solasi's Khmer girlfriend burst out laughing, unable to contain herself as she watched me fumble with my black bug.

Hmmmmm good! Tastes just like chicken! Well... not exactly!

The bug itself seems to have a kind of nutty flavor. It has a very definite crunch when you bite down on it.... but the rather foul tasting oily flavor really coats the whole inside of the mouth and not even several pints of Cambodian beer could make the taste disappear from my mouth! For that to happen... it took Crest Toothpaste and a whole lot of scrubbing of my entire mouth to clean away all the oil.... and bug!

Wat Bo Primary School in Siem Reap, Cambodia

I think I'm falling in love with Cambodia!

I've only been here a couple of weeks, but in that short time, this country has certainly captured my heart! The Cambodian people are so gentile, so hospitable and the students.... although coming from extreme poverty are so self confident... so enthusiastic to learn... in other words... they are just plain neat kids!

This morning I had a fascinating conversation with a ten year old boy whose English speaking skills amazed me. I noticed he'd completed the board assignment well ahead of the other students, so had a conversation with him. He told me he wants to become a medical doctor. He went on to tell me that both of his parents are doctors. He could even tell me what year they graduated from medical school! When I asked him where he wanted to go to school for his medical degree, he said Phnom Phen .. and the name of the University... however, he told me that he'd need to stay with his grandmother, and would much prefer to live with his parents in Siem Reap.

There's been a musical theme to this summer's teaching travels.... which began in Thailand and now are continuing into Cambodia.... Perhaps it is because my teaching this summer has focused on primary school children... and these little ones love to sing!

This week I've been teaching primary school children, ages 8 to 12, at Wat Bo Primary School in Siem Reap. After spending some time on basic English conversation, I taught the students how to sing "Row, row, row your boat....." The whole class picked up on the song very quickly and could sing not only the words perfectly, but also the melody!

With the basics of "Row, row, row your boat" memorized.... I split the class initially into two... and had them sing the song in harmony. This was a piece of cake for these students! So I split them again... this time into four groups and just that fast.... we had four part harmony going! So just guess what I've heard the childing singing and humming this whole week as I've taught them ...... yup... "Row, row, row your boat!"

e hënë, 16 korrik 2007

Coaching teachers in Cambodia

In Cambodia, teachers earn $40 per month. An English speaking temple tour guide can get $15 to $25 per day. It does not take an Einstein to quickly realize that speaking good English is THE key to some semblance of financial security in Cambodia. The cost of living, though low by western standards, is very high for local Cambodians. Monthly rent alone can run $20 or more for a basic one room apartment. The high cost of living forces most everyone to have a second or third job so as to earn enough to barely scrape by.

The public schools have two shifts per day... one from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and the second from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Too many students and not enough schools. If a teacher works from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. they will earn a whopping $80 per month! And other than a meager retirement in the distant future, nothing much else for benefits.

Once I'd finished my three exhausting, as well as exhilarating days of visiting the ancient temples of Angkor, I immediately began a search for schools where I might teach. The Cambodians speak such good English, I was really curious to try and find out more about the educational system here. I've found that middle school children in Cambodia most often speak better English than the Thai University graduates with majors in English that I've met! My personal theory is that the higher level of English in Cambodia is due to economics - learn English or live a life in total abject poverty.

After visiting a couple of public schools (Angkor High and 10 January High), I quickly found out that the high schools in Siem Reap, Cambodia were on summer break, waiting to begin the new school year in September.

The tower on the temple grounds.... housing hundreds of human skulls... a memorial to the nearly two million Cambodians who were killed by their own government.

With public high schools out of the picture, I tried a Buddhist school called WatThmei School for Vulnerable Children. The school, which is located on the very grounds that 30 years ago were the "Killing Fields" of Si em Reap, was also closed for the summer recess. The visit to this school was however, my first real introduction to the horrors of recent Cambodian history when over a period of about four years, the Khmer Rouge Government tortured and killed close to two million of its own people - men, women, children. No one was spared. A third of Cambodia's population was executed - sometimes for no other reason than that the person wore glasses.

Throughout Siem Reap, I'd heard there were many NGOs that run private schools, so I continued my search for a school where I might volunteer my time. Interestingly enough, after asking a lot of people, I found a small, all Khmer volunteer run private school, just a short walk from my guest house!

"Jay's School" provides free English classes daily to over 200 very poor students, ages 10 to 25. In addition to Jay, a 26 year old Khmer who works at a British NGO school during the day, four other Khmer volunteer their time to teach these students. For the last three years, Jay has been providing evening classes, free of charge.... 5:30 p.m. to 6;30 p.m; 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The tiny wooden school house, sitting on stilts, is packed with students each period. Because of the sheer number of students seeking an education, Jay has had to turn his own house, located right next to the school, also into a classroom.

Jay asked me to observe his teaching and to provide him with mentoring guidance. Since Jay is not a trained teacher, I was truly amazed as I watched him employ a variety of ELL teaching strategies in his classroom. It did not take me long to realize that this young man is one of those rare "natural" teachers who has a gift for positively connecting with students and understanding how they best learn.

Very self confident in his abilities, Jay would actively engage his students for an hour, then as the next group of students was arriving, he'd ask me for feedback and suggestions. Using the coaching skills I've learned through RUSD's BTSA Program, I'd hold a short reflective conversation with Jay ... sometimes making a suggestion... which he'd quickly grasp AND immediately put into practice.

Observing Jay effectively and enthusiastically teach his eager students, I had flash backs to my Africa International Development experience. My observations of "Jay's School" re-kindled my strong belief in a local, ground up approach as the primary and perhaps most effective way for a developing country to attain sustainable development.

As I watched this young man and his friends, throw their hearts and souls into assisting their young students, I could just stand there in total awe .... inspired by their deep felt desire to help their country and re-energized that even in the midst of so much poverty... the spirit of volunteerism is alive and growing at least in one little part of Cambodia.

e enjte, 12 korrik 2007

THe ancient trees of the Angkor

These ancient trees have literally grown over this "Jungle Temple!


For hundreds of years, the temples were lost to the jungle. Then under French colonization... the temples were "re-discovered" and the process began of trying to reclaim them from the fast growing vegetation.

Like something out of a science fiction movie.... the giant tree roots have consumed the temples.

Almost felt as though I was part of a "living" movie set!

Hello from Angkor Wat .... The Center of the Universe

The builders of Angkor Wat in Cambodia believed the temple to be the Center of the Universe. Visiting this site, truly is a "Spiritual Experience." Photographs do not do this temple justice..... and even now.... I'm still searching for the words that can express my experience....

Sunset at Angkor Wat Temple.....

From any angle, Angkor Wat soars into the sky .... this being a side view of the temple

The towers rise high into the sky, and the climb up to the top is an unforgettable experience too! The steps are so, so steep!

Sunrise over Angkor Wat Temple ....