The Thailand Diaries: Mr. Parasite and the case of the missing toilet

After three years living in Thailand I decided it was time I wrote my memoirs… this one may be a little too much information for some but if you can’t tell your diary, who can you tell?


My tummy had been doing somersaults since I had woken up but I had put it down to whatever undoubtedly spicy-fried-stuff-with-rice that I had eaten for dinner the night before.  It’s not unusual to feel every single digestive movement within you when you are embracing the local food in Thailand.

Little did I know that there was a particularly pesky parasite harbouring within my body waiting to burst forth – quite literally – and make an appearance.  Only time would reveal this, and my what timing Mr. Parasite had.  I would soon find myself wishing I had listened to my gut’s grumbles with more attention but we all know that hindsight, and a rather memorable toilet (or lack thereof) experience, is a gift we cannot savour until it is already too late.

Perhaps someone reading this will learn something, and my experience will enable another to avoid what was unavoidably my fate.  Read on and take note, dear reader.

As I have already said, I was embracing the local cuisine of Thailand’s deep south, and so I found myself heading over to a little khao geang (literally rice curry) place at breakfast time.  It was owned by a lovely couple who would rise early to prepare an array of dishes to be laid out buffet-style for the customers to peruse and take their pick of.  As is usual in these set ups, the shop was in the front of their house, backing on to the living room which they shared with the patrons.  Unusual by Western standards but very much the norm here in Thailand.  Another rather un-Western thing – customer toilets are few and far between in these types of establishments; this fact would become all too apparent all too quickly.

Grumble.  Groan.  Squelch.  I looked at my breakfast of spicy-fried-stuff-with-rice and was unable to conjure up the slightest inkling of an appetite.  Strangely enough, being able to feel your internal organs in action tends to be quite the appetite killer.

Grumble.  Groan.  GRUMBLE.  GROAN.  Suddenly the urgency with which my insides operated reached a peak with only one message.  TOILET.  NOW.

Mee hongnam mai ka?  Possibly the single most important phrase to learn upon travelling to any foreign land – do you have a toilet?

The husband-wife curry shop duo looked at one another and then at me, in my white school shirt and pencil skirt.  They started to explain that it’s their toilet, it’s no good for customers, especially not farang customers in tight skirts… but I was already up and heading to the back of the house where their gazes lead me.  Tee nee ka?  Here?

I was  in there before they had time to answer but sure enough I found myself in what must be the family bathroom.  A damp concrete square of a room with a concrete floor and only sky where a ceiling would normally take residence.  Good for ventilation I suppose.

GRUMBLE.  GROAN.

I desperately cast my eyes around, looking for the bog, the loo, the porcelain throne… nothing.  There was a small container of water, adorned with wrung out flannels, an old bar of soap and a couple of toothbrushes.  Next to that, a larger bin also full of water with a Winnie the Pooh children’s cereal bowl floating in it.  A quick peek beyond and I found a hole in the ground.  A hole, albeit encircled with a porcelain frame, as if to confirm that yes, this is in fact the toilet.

Full disclosure: I should probably apologise for the misleading title of this post – there was a toilet, just not the type that I am used to.

My pencil skirt was too tight to be hoicked up and so I whipped it off and flung it over my shoulder.  I’ll save you the details of what happened next but let me tell you that Mr. Parasite put me through my paces.  Epic toilet times – a rite of passage when adjusting to a life abroad but something best enjoyed (wrong word) in the privacy of one’s own home.

Something you learn quickly when you are traveling through or living in an Asian country is that there is a distinct lack of toilet tissue, especially in those countires that favour a bidet hose, or bum gun as I like to call it.  In fact, you quickly learn that we have developed a whole load of unnecessary Westernised expectations when it comes to the toilet.  We don’t need toilet seats, automatic flushes or jet powered hand dryers, but at some point we decided that we do.   Had I had the time to think things through before my rush to the toilet I would have grabbed some paper towels from the table.  Again, hindsight.

Unfortunately for me it was a double whammy.  Not only was there no toilet but no bum gun either.

Panic started to set in.  Do I shout for someone to bring me some tissue?  There isn’t even a bin.  Not an option.  There I was, squatting askew a hole in the ground, half dressed with my skirt slung over my shoulder desperately looking for a post-toilet clean up solution.

There’s only so long one can stay in such a position without taking action.  I was time to go truly native, armed with gallons of water, a Winnie the Pooh children’s cereal bowl and…

… my hand.  Oh yes, native indeed.

Thank goodness there was an old bar of soap.

At the time I have to say that wasn’t one of my most pleasant mornings, but at least now I can look back and laugh, and I can face any toilet situation safe in the knowledge that it will never be that traumatic ever again.


I may look back and find this funny, but many people don’t even have a hole in the ground let alone clean water to wash with or even drink.  Check out the gifts you can buy over at Water Aid  to enable people to have access to clean water and village water systems. 

This isn’t a sponsored post, I just want to make up for laughing at what is a daily occurrence for so many people around the globe.

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7 ways to be an exceptionally mediocre TEFL teacher

tefl

Do you have what it takes to be a really bad TEFL teacher?  Time and time again TEFL teachers are referred to as backpacker layabouts with no dedication, and every school can relay a tale of a certain TEFLer who left them in the lurch and now wary of every other foreign teacher who comes along.  Follow this advice and you will most definitely succeed at being yet another mediocre TEFL teacher giving the rest a bad name.

  1. Firstly, start from the viewpoint that anyone can do the job.  Don’t worry about considering your English skills or if you are suited to working with children – anyone can be a TEFL teacher.  In fact, don’t even bother with any sort of certification, so many schools will be simply falling over themselves in desperation for you, there will be plenty of job offers and you will have your pick of the establishments across the length and breadth of your country of choice.  The world, and its children, are your oyster.
  2. On the subject of your country of choice, you should most definitely make your decision based on the number of beaches, the level of debauchery to be found in the nightlife and how easy it will be to hide away from the problems you have at home.  Don’t consider the culture, the food or the way of life that you will be invading – you won’t be throwing yourself in to deep anyway.
  3. But then again, you probably won’t be sticking around in one place too long anyway.  That’s what this TEFL malarkey is all about anyway, floating from country to country doing half-term stints at any school that will take you with no consideration of actually immersing yourself into the way of life or making any meaningful relationships.  Always have your eye on the next destination, the next place that you can use to impress the next travelers that you meet.
  4. Of course, don’t make friends with the locals.  You should only mix with other ex-pats and feed off their bitterness for the job, the country and the people.  Better still if you become that grumpy old man as quickly as possible, to blend in with the others and be better equipped to join in on the conversations about how this country needs to change x, y and z to make things better for you – the coveted and most highly-revered foreigner gracing your presence on this inferior country.
  5. When it comes to inside the classroom (where you will of course spend the bare minimum required amount of time), make sure you are uninspiring, and use the least amount of enthusiasm and energy possible.  Don’t take the time to get to know your students.  Dish out pointless worksheets that you will never look at, let alone mark.  Then again you could just sit at the front of the class and wait for the hour to be over – everyone in the room is more than aware that this is just a means to a paycheck at the end of the month, why waste anyone’s time any further by actually attempting to impart any knowledge?
  6. Don’t bother planning for your lessons, certainly not beyond a cursory glace at the next page in the workbook and most definitely not in the comfort of your own home.  Who needs a range of learning tools and stimuli anyway?  There are a few old flashcards in the bottom of that teacher’s desk – the one that never came back from the last long weekend – that you could probably use if you had to.
  7. Finally, when it’s your turn to disappear, don’t worry about informing your employer or the students.  Don’t concern yourself with grading those tests or planning for the first few weeks of your absence.  Just fly off, ready to grace your presence on the next unsuspecting country on your list.

So, do you think you’ve got what it takes?

 

THAI STY(LE); an alternative look at life in Thailand

This video is a brilliantly tongue-in-cheek ‘alternative’ take on life in Thailand and offers a humorous insight into what life may be like for those of you out there considering making the move. It’s a funny watch for those of us already living out here too, and offers a few in-jokes that only we will get… and for anyone who has spent any time in Thailand I’m sure it will bring back a few memories to make you chuckle.

Check it out for the lols!

Sunday Papers – peace confusion, apologies and aliens.

It’s Sunday morning and every week I like to cast my eyes over the morning’s papers at home and in Thailand. Thailand’s news is still focused on the protests which came to a (once again) violent point yesterday afternoon as tensions raise ahead of the elections taking place today.  With many polling stations unable to open due to the delivery of ballot papers being obstructed and protests outside of the polling stations that have managed to open it is hard to see many people braving the frontline to cast their vote, especially with violent outbursts such as this captured on video yesterday taking place; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wVmQAp13kI&sns=tw Scary stuff. On a lighter note, but still not a particularly positive light for Thailand, shopping mecca Central Festival had to release an official apology after the world of the internet brought it to their attention that maybe their advert (below) for Chinese New Year featuring a model pulling a ‘slanty eye’ maybe, just maybe, might be offensive to… the rest of the world who now have a grasp on things such as racial prejudice and the like. How many times must we tell you, Thailand?! It’s not all violent protests and racism in the Land of Smiles – these lovely people had the greatest intentions, staging a candlelit vigil for peace in Thailand… only their candles seemed to be displaying the Mercedes Benz symbol rather than the peace symbol… oops. Heading over to the homeland, things of an extra-terrestrial nature are taking hold of the county of Cornwall with the alleged sighting of a UFO at Mounts Bay – which to my untrained eye is clearly a meteor.  Judge it for yourself:-ufo1web It comes as no surprise to me that Cornwall is the number one area in the UK for UFO spottings – there a quite a lot of strange people with a lot of time on their hands!

The woes of the introverted shopper in Thailand

I live in the shopper’s paradise – and for me it’s a living nightmare.

Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE to shop.  Well, I actually love to spend and to accumulate new shiny things.  It’s the shopping part that can cause me much pain in the process, especially living in Thailand.

This stock image perfectly captures how I feel when I am harassed while shopping.

You see, there are two types of shopper.  There is the extroverted shopper, who greets the shop assistant as they walk in, who asks for extra sizes, colours or designs, who enjoys the entire process.  Then there’s the introverted shopper who likes to browse uninterrupted, avoiding eye contact with the seller (because we all know that once eye contact happens, the pressure to buy multiplies).  I don’t hate shopping; I just love a quiet, uninterrupted browse at my own pace.

Yes, Thailand is a shopper’s dream, especially Hatyai which is referred to as the shopping mecca of southern Thailand, and rightly so – with markets, shopping malls and super centres there is a shop for everyone.

Unfortunately for those of us who come under the introverted shopper category, you’re out of luck.  Be it a stall at the local market or a top brand store in a shopping centre, those shop assistants will be on your back and breathing down your neck and showing you the various spectrum of colours that each item comes in before you have even glanced at a pair of socks.  Perhaps they see a foreigner and make the mistake of assuming that I have a lot of money.  I think it’s just the style of selling here – loud and in your face whether you like it or not.  I guess they are all on commission.  And there’s the return of the pressure to guilt-buy.

Take yesterday for example.  I need new school shoes, a bag and a new pair of sunglasses.  Pretty simple stuff.  So I head to Lee Gardens shopping centre and make my way downstairs where the cheapest stuff is (usually in these kind of places the price goes up the higher the floor number).

First shop – shoe shop.  It’s a large store but they still have far too much stock.  Dozens of hundreds of shoes are squeezed onto shelves arranged into makeshift aisles that my foreign ass barely fits down.  I adopt a sideways shuffle approach.  As long as I can crab walk my way down these alleyways uninterrupted I will be fine.  But of course within approximately 40 seconds the shop assistant has looked up and is sideways shuffling after me.  There is no turning space.  I am trapped.

What follows is a pointless conversation where despite my best efforts to say that I am just looking (and my Thai is most definitely up to scratch in the shopping department) she doesn’t take the hint and leave me alone and instead randomly selects shoes of varying designs, colours and material in the hopes that by twirling them around three inches from my nose she may enlighten me to how lovely they are.  A bejewelled sandal.  Green jelly shoes.  Stiletto heels.  Only in Thailand can these three shoe specimens be found side by side on the shelf.

After saying no, no thank you, no I don’t like those… I find myself sideways crab shuffling backwards and out of the shop.  I didn’t get to look at 95% of the shop.  As I left I saw that not only do they also sell sunglasses, but bags too.  Had I been left alone I probably would have bought my entire shopping list in one go.  But alas, I backwards shuffled right out of there and into the bright lights of the shopping centre foyer, empty handed and annoyed.

Why can’t I be more shopping-assertive?  Why, despite my best efforts to give off an aura that says leave me alone, do I seem to attract the unwanted attention of the shop assistant every time?

This is why I love Tesco (I would say other supermarkets are available but they aren’t in Thailand – oh how I miss Asda).  You can browse to your heart’s content and no-one is going to pounce on you.  Or even if I had an actual street address for my house, I could internet shop.  Oh, the possibilities!

For now I will just make do with my tatty shoes, my broken bag and my scratched up sunglasses.  Next time I will be more prepared – perhaps if I wear a big pair of headphones blaring out crazy-loud music, and refuse to speak anything but very fast English, then they will leave me to browse at peace.