Archive for April, 2014

Embedding Thailand

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Embedding Thailand

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Three years ago our school, Dalian American International School, gave us our spring break unfettered. Professional Development, as a Common Core (a favorite buzzword at our school) active-learning-function, should be embedded within school-time, according to values held amongst staff, was separated from holiday time. Professional Development of course is part and partial of instructional education and as the name implies (professional development) is a segment of what enhances the teaching environment which is what people pay to send their darlings to our school to learn. Three years ago the EARCOS (East Asia Regional Council of Schools) conference was in Bangkok and as usual went from Thursday to Saturday. Spring Break holidays followed the next week. As our school gives us a thousand dollar stipend for PD we usually use it for a conference and the thousand dollars US comes close to paying the airfare, the conference, and the hotel. So naturally when the conference is during school days prior to a holiday why would we not combine them? which we did three years ago and about half the teachers pissed off on a Wednesday went to a conference in Bangkok then on to holiday the following week. I think we went to Viet Nam that year after the conference. Which made sense as our airfare was paid for most of the way by going via Bangkok.

 

Not to worry we made do and Friday right after school we were on the way to the airport, one hour away, with Jolly from our Jack-controlled fleet of drivers. Being five o’clock in Dalian add a 45 minutes but we were in flight and arriving in Guangzhou before mid-night. We chose to get out of town thinking we would get to our sea-side town by Saturday noon and to have five-days before being burden with the great mind minds in the educational world; should not be sarcastic here as there are always a few guiding lights at these conferences though a large quantity of ‘look at how great I am‘ presenters too.

Staying at the Pullman Hotel at Guangzhou Airport, a five minute walk away from the entrance to Gate A – International is the best way to start a holiday. Yes, there are soft beds in China and large soft pillows. Even at top hotels we find hard beds waiting for us but not at the Pullman and five thirty Saturday morning came just too soon for the comforts one craves at any age. We got to Bangkok and taking the Airport Rail Link (06:00-midnight) that connects downtown Suvarnabhumi International Airport with Bangkok we were at Hua Lamphong Railway Station (สถานีรถไฟหัวลำโพง – ah the joys of cut and paste), or for those of us who struggle with any language of any sort, the Bangkok Railway Station.

(my youtube video for this is at http://youtu.be/tjxnVU4FoGk).

Bangkok Railway Station

The train station is a typical older big city Asian place. The toilets are horrible (bring your own tissue – and be prepared to squat if squat action is what your body needs to do), there are restaurants, we ate at one upstairs that was very grubby but the tofu stew I had was fine though I suspect that like most meals was heavily laced with MSG which makes me more hyper than usual which is fine after a cup of coffee and a long train ride. The noon train was fully booked and the only place left on the next train at 2.30 was first class sleeper which sounded groovy and comfortable and elitist and we bought on for those moments of merging with the chosen and higher echelon of whatever social grouping we were to be embedded with. Eventually we were off to Hua Hin; promoted as the closest beach resort of Bangkok, located 281 kms away.

 

Hua Hin Train Station

The photo of the Hua Hin Train Station below is the next day.

   

We brought snack food with us which was good because I was unable to eat the dead-animal-laced meals that were on offer but we did have drinks in the restaurant car and a good view of the landscape which was mainly flat and rice fields (see the video). The upper crust we were on board with looked pretty working class or below which probably coincided with the fare of about $15 US. So this was not Amtrak and the sleeper car definitely was not what we expected (see image above) but was actually our seats folded down with a pull down bunk on top and a thin mat on top and curtains. OK so it was mid-day and we did not need sleepers but we thought it would be a hoot (I think it was me that was thinking in turns of ‘oh boy this will be kool‘) to get the beds made up and I went off to find a porter type of dude who made up the beds with pillows and sheets and the half inch piece of foam that would serve as our mattress. Of course as we live in a world of ‘hey they are doing it so we should do it too‘ and of course with us being the only westerners on the train obviously we knew what we were doing so the people across from us did it. They had a child of about five who thought it was all a big Cubby House and chattered the whole trip (six hours, two hours longer than the advertised time) and climbed between up and down bunks.

Then the next seat did it and soon as shown above the whole car was one big sleeper and it was only about four in the afternoon. Not to be a trend-starter for no reason I climbed up on the top bunk and promptly fell to sleep for about an hour and I was not even sleepy to begin with. But I tend to relax and go to sleep quite easy. I do it on airplanes; often being sound to sleep from starting on the runway to waking in the clouds – maybe something about my level of consciousness being played out there. One of my stranger times I suppose was going to sleep whilst the dentist was drilling a few months ago, they woke me up a couple of times. And forget massages – Narda will tell me that soon after they start I am snoring. The bad part of my sleeping habits is that I awake a few hours later, like around one or two in the morning wide-awake ready for the day and I just lay there, usually quite frustrated for a couple of hours before going back to sleep. I tend to fall asleep always within half an hour before it is time to get up.

Nevertheless we got to Hua Hin station about 8.30 PM with the people who we had arranged our airbnb waiting the extra hours for our arrival. In contrast to our smartypants idea that leaving Friday night would have our toes in the warm waters of Thailand and away from the still freezing weather of Dalian was quite in error in judgement as some others left our school Saturday morning and once at Bangkok Airport took another flight and got to their beach side resort early Saturday afternoon with us leaving a dozen hours earlier and getting to our destination hours later than the others.

We stayed in a small apartment owned by a Dutch couple@ the Tira Tiraa Condominium (http://www.tiratiraahuahin.com/). The whole joint is full of Northern Europeans, lots of Danes and Germans who live there for several months at a time and of course Narda was thrilled and the word retirement came up multiple time. (It sound like an echo off of a distant mountain filtered through many layers of resistance in my brain stem scratching against the reptilian part of my brain.). Good western restaurants and we went to the ‘S & S Indian Restaurant’ which is listed a Ranked#9 of 348 restaurants in Hua Hin in Tripadvisor and we ranked it as number one of three restaurants we ate at which of course is a higher ranker but not as credible because we are no-body. We had several eats at ‘I Rice’ which was only a block away and we ranked it as number two out of three though Tripadvisor Ranked it as #70 of 348 restaurantsin Hua Hin. Forgot where we ranked number three, I think it was where we had breakfast.

The Tira Tiraa Condominiums have a wonderful large swimming pool and we made use of it and a gym which I made use of everyday. The rest of the time we wandered around, took a random bus to Cha Am which is a distant extension of Hua Hin and is full of Northern European tourists beneath kilometer after kilometer of umbrellas. See below:

 

 

Songthaew, taxi truck

Bus to Cha Am

As we usually do we took random tuk tuks to places we did not know including this random bus that went to the next town, Cha Am. The town centre is nowhere as nice as Hua Hin so we started down the road to the beach (see umbrella infested shore photo above) on a very hot day and fortunately were able to hail a taxi truck (“songthaews”) most of the way. We walked all the way back to town which was miserable, taking an hour in the noon-day sun.

We got the bus back toward Hua Hin but being the tourists that we are and having read about The Venezia Hua Hinwhich online (http://www.theveneziahuahin.com/) and on our tourist map boasted its significance: The Venezia Hua Hin: The inspiration of this magnificent project came from the charming of the world famous river city named ‘Venice, Italy’. Venice is known as a city that massively uses water transportation by using the canal as a traffic channel through out the city. In addition, the Venice has also preserved traditional stores with beautiful sculpture surrounding of the canal area. These charming can be compared to one of the most charming in Thailand, Hua Hin.

Hua Hin is the major tourist destination and long time famous city in Thailand. As of the fact that Hua Hin is currently regarded as the prime tourism potential in terms of rapidly and steadily growing in the business and numbers of both Thai and foreign tourists. As the distance between Hua Hin and Bangkok, it is very convenient to travel as same day trip between Bangkok and Hua Hin; It takes less than two hours by car. Hua Hin, the city of relaxing place for living and visiting supported by surrounding many major attractions. Of course, huge buying power of over 65 million people across the country and oversea visitors.

We loved being in Venice and all the other places of Italy we have wandered about in so a day at a Venetian Shopping Centre – of course, why not?

Holy Cow! The shopping centre had to be the most tacky and ill conceived place I have ever seen. To make it even more idiotic they charged 50 baht to get in; OK so it is only $1.50 US but the nerve… Surely it was built by the Chinese as I doubt any other country could have come up with such a stupid concept. Due to the heat being in an air-conditioned mall was a relief but what a bunch of stupid shops. Everything was so overpriced and the place so empty.

There were mixed styles; some I think were suppose to mimic Italy in someone’s twisted dream and some just did make sense. I think they were a Thai copy of Disney, not sure. There was a sort of Christmas theme happening too I think even though we were in the middle of March.

A Christmas theme in the sense that there were reindeer or horses with horns and trees with lights and packages beneath. I doubt whether the builders/designers had ever been to Venice. It was even more tacky than the The Venetian Macao (see my blog of Macao @ http://wp.me/pcHIf-iz). We discovered that we needed cash and the ATM did not take our Chinese Union-pay Card (most countries and ATMs do including in Hua Hin, Bangkok, Burma and etc) but not at this strange place which was good as Narda had found some wings she was buying for her two-year old granddaughter and a soft sheep. We had just enough cash to get on a bus back to Hua Hin.

The Venezia Hua Hin
The Venezia Shopping Centre
The Venezia Shopping Centre
The Venezia Hua Hin

Once we had dragged our sorry asses out of the air-conditioned mall and alongside the sun-killing highway we waited and waited though it was only 20 minutes for the bus. There was no shade and I tried entertaining myself and Narda (she was not entertained) by making fun of a bullock in the paddock next to us.

don’t eat animals they are kool

Not to worry we got home had dinner at ‘I Rice’ and had a swim in the pool and Narda talked about retirement and I checked out the bandwidth which needless to say was a lot better than what we get at Campus Village back home in Dalian which is close to non-existent. I am not sure whether it is funding cuts at our school that has gotten us less bandwidth or the fact that the Internet mainly filters through student housing first to keep them happy or if it is because of the government. No one is enlightening us on why our Internet in China is so much worse than it was two years ago. So I hastily uploaded YouTube clips of our travels so far on this trip. And of course posted to and read Facebook and Twitter and other sites banned in China.

We walked along the beach in Hua Hin stopping at the Hilton Hua Hin Resort & Spa because when one wants a proper toilet a western hotel is the place to go. The Hilton did not let us down and we rested in their beautiful lobby overlooking the sea (picture below)

The lobby of the Hilton Hotel with water falls into a pool and on into the seathen we went on to the Centara Grand Beach Resort Hotel

(http://www.centarahotelsresorts.com/centaragrand/chbr/) which was formerly the Hua Hin Railway Hotel (when it was affordable). The lawns are amazing with sculptured bushes and all the old world charm in the lobby before whatever bad-tastes-tourism’s wrecking ball has done to the beautiful places of the world. If we were not staying at the Tira Tiraa Condominium and had three-hundred dollars per night to spend on lodging we would have stayed at the Centara Grand Beach Resort Hotel. Narda says we will stay here for a week to celebrate our twenty anniversary of when we did the ‘M’ thing back in 2001 so we have seven-years to save our coins in a jar and by then if the world has not gone on some crazy end-of-the-earth bang we will stay at the former Railway hotel.

gardens at Centara
gardens at Centara – Old Railway Hotel – elephant style

 

just a random school but I took a photo of it to remind me how easy our school name is to say – Dalian American International School

 

jetty in Hua Hin

 

Narda and a local shop in Hua Hin
Narda checking out a place to purchase so we can face retirement

 

We went off to grab a photo of the train station and inspect more of funky Hua Hin – which is good at this moment in time because it is not filled with tourists like the other resort areas in Thailand.

Narda on train to Hua Hin

 

There are the retired and semi-retired who have homes for months at a time (Narda’s direction for us – just make sure there is fast Internet and I will be OK) but for packs of tourists, not yet. Narda had a bag she bought in Yangon a few weeks ago that needed repair so we stopped at a sewing place. I looked down the road and saw all the traffic stopped two blocks before the one round-about in town. Walking to the one round-about in town I saw traffic was stopped in a directions and the road crossing town was empty except for police and military lined up. Not having a clue as usual I went out to the centre of the round-about to take photos and video and cops from several directions came running toward me waving to stop filming so I went down the street and behind a pole began filming again; see http://youtu.be/XvOScADNIKQ, turns out that the King of Thailand was going to his summer palace which is just outside of Hua Hin. The people lining the street were chanting and waving Thai flags. It was all rather quaint. Narda was nervous that I would be arrested. Actually I am a bit of a journalist as I have a BA in Journalism from Deakin University in Melbourne and having never really had much chop at using it in a real world situation I thought this would be a good time to get a story but in actual fact there was no story to get as apparently the king spends a lot of his time at his Hua Hin home.

Narda always says we need to live somewhere beautiful, it does not matter whether it is in a poor area or – well I think a poor area is what we can afford and Thailand is so full of beautiful places but it is gradually, like the world itself getting overrun by… well I suppose it is people like us. We all want to live in a beautiful place and not in polluted choking places like most major industrial areas. But we bring our industrialized values with us which is stuffing up the once beautiful places. I don’t know what will happen to this planet in the next couple of decades but from first hand viewing it does not seem as going too well. Of course we would just be happy with a reasonable shack with some solar panels, a veggie patch and some chooks on a beach somewhere in Asia but then the water rises and a tsunamis comes or radiation from North Korea or everyone is running out of drinking water and food and gosh…

We took a bus back to Bangkok. It was a 22-seat-coach to Suvarnabhumi Bangkok Airport, comfortable and less than four-hours. A lot better than the train. I slept most of the way, not sure why as I was not sleepy when we got on at noon but I seem to sleep wherever I am.

We arrived Bangkok in the evening and caught up with Kay and Frank our neighbours last year here in Campus Village and recently our host at their home in Yangon, Burma and a few others grabbed a foot massage, I fell to sleep and snored and Narda in the next seat woke me and the next day Thursday we were at the EARCOS conference.

I of course attended the tech ones such as ‘Innovate now or become irrelevant’ and about Digital Badges which has merit but after digging around in it there are too many companies just in it for the money. Of course education is about money and when you get into private schools and narrow that down to international schools the flow of money overrides it all. I attended too many sessions that were in essence a sales pitch either to take a course to get credit but of course these are paid courses and what more do I want to add to a PhD I am not sure but this is perhaps where open badges comes into play. That we can get cred for whatever we do. But then again to issue badges costs money. Ryan our elementary tech person is working on it and has already issued me with a badge;

though somehow I think it misses the educational systems hierarchy of sustained learning. I in turn made him a badge with something about educational rapping as he is our local rock star (Cronkite Satellite) and in fact I filmed the video for one of his songs for a you-tube clip – http://youtu.be/sOide6Bf140 and I have been doing some chroma-screen (blue screen) work with him for projects in our video suite at school.

Back to the conference – so presenters seem to be focused on selling their courses or selling a web-based program. The venders all line up in the lobby but all we do is taking pens, thumb-drives, bags and other crap on their tables. One presentation I went to was identical to what he presented at the last couple of conferences I have been to. The good part of these events is to hear the lingo I suppose, though I do not feel I moved forward with anything useful. I have known about digital badges and questioned their usefulness years ago. I am on-board with them and once we figure the java scripting for them I will issue some for my film class. Of course they will not have the currency that one issued by a university or the United Nations will have but I will at least have my students mindful of earning more in life than grades.

Narda and I took a river cruise and of course as usual got lost.

 

 

Don’t ask me how one gets lost on a river but we did it. We were told we could get off wherever we wanted and catch a river-taxi back. After an hour I was busting for a loo so we got off at a stop that looked useful and that was large enough to catch one back to the Shangri-La Hotel where the conference was. Off of the boat we realised we were kind of nowhere and we after walking found a bustling centre of whatever suburb we were in and after using the loo and sitting on the pier until the sun set we asked a chap about when the next boat back to the Shangri-La Hotel was. OK so there was none because the last boat stopping there was the one we were on and the ones we saw going by were only stopping somewhere where we were not. The man write out what buses to take – and as all people do with us either because we appear to be old, and possibly are, or because they think we are deaf they say the instructions louder over and over. Saying stuff louder in a foreign language does not make the meaning any clearer.

This happens often in China, people just say stuff slower and louder like we would understand it. So we dragged our sorry-asses to a bus stop asked some people where to get the bus got on and rode for a very long time until we got stuck in traffic and grabbed a taxi. We were rushing to get to the Shangri-La Hotel because they were having their conference dinner at the pools and by the river night. We have been to these before and the food is not too bad; a little light on the vegetarian crap but for meat loving Narda there was plenty. And of course it is free tucker and we figured we would catch up with the rest of the 18 teachers from our school and others that use to work at our school and are now elsewhere but still being sent to these conferences being in Asian schools and all but we saw like two or three people. We ate as much as could shove in, had a few drinks and that was it.

We went to the Cabbages and Condoms restaurant with a group – see below and that was good. The restaurant at 6 Sukhumvit Soi 12, Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok 10110, is a bit of a condom crazed place. Their profits go to help poor people and it is all very interesting. We gave our condoms back that they give at the end of the meal saying ‘look at us do we look like we need them?’. Some interesting things are shown below –

Cabbages and Condoms restaurant with Jean, Frank, Kay, Narda, Terrell and condom friends
Cabbages and Condoms restaurant – Santa’s little helpers
Cabbages and Condoms restaurant: good cops vs. bad cops
Cabbages and Condoms restaurant
Cabbages and Condoms restaurant

Now back home shopping in the Jinshitan market Saturday morning bundled up.

shopping in the Jinshitan market Saturday morning bundled up.

We have twelve weeks left here before our little three-year journey in China is over then we go to Hong Kong to check my four stents put in awhile back and on to Laos for a couple of weeks and back to Australia after a twelve year absence. We went to New York back in 2002 for a couple of years but that turned into nine years and then three here. I am sure we will be back in some other country within another year or two.

 

Today was good; Sunday the sixth of April. I practiced softball with the Taiwan team this morning as we get ready to go to Shanghai for our tournament in two weeks. We had a whole school bar-b-que at Campus Village; something we will miss in the future. Last night I had the whole gym to myself and shot baskets whilst listening to the Delta Blues station on my iphone. Being a fan of anything from my New Orleans era of the 1960s is incredible so many years later. Yes, I will miss this place. And even better, tomorrow, Monday, is a holiday; tomb sweeping day. Yes, I will miss this place.