Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lessons We're Learning from Travelling

by Tom and Courtney

Here's a collection of some of the things that Courtney and I are hoping to take away from our travel experiences so far. It's an incomplete list of lessons we've been taught, but not necessarily learned! If you have any lessons you've been taught, or even lessons you've learned, please share.

1) It's easier to sort stuff out at home than abroad
A sealed transcript for a Korean E-2 visa costs £5 in the UK and they do it while you wait. Trying to get it (and other documents) to you in Bangkok led to Lesson 2.
 

2) It takes longer and costs more than you think it will
 Train rides, visas, meals and taxis have all taught us this lesson in whole or in part


3) Tom doesn't need to go to Bangkok again
Over a month here is fine by me. Been there, got two t-shirts.
 

4) Courtney finds pedestrian sidewalks great
Not having to check that a tuk-tuk is going to run you down from behind is great. Not having to worry that while you're checking for tuk-tuks behind you, a moped might crash into your front is even better. That's why they're called sidewalks.
  

5) Eat and drink before you get crabby
Courtney and I are fairly simple creatures. Three things will get us crabby: being hungry, thirsty or tired, hence Lesson 6
 

6) Nap
Not only does it stop us from getting crabby, it gets really hot around midday here. A siesta under the air-con can be a great way to escape the heat.
 

7) What they tell you might not be true 
Funny story here. After getting our Thai visas extended at the Cambodian border we were told we would have to wait until 4:30pm (almost 2 hours) before our mini bus would leave, so we scarpered off, had an iced coffee and started this list. We got back to the pick-up point around 3:50pm to find that the bus had already left. Fortunately it hadn't gone too far so was able to turn round and pick us up. We were able to laugh and quote this rule to each other. 
 

8) Carry tissues
For the bathroom, for minor slips and spills, for writing things on, for tinder when lighting a fire, as a tiny signaling device. The list goes on...
 

9) Take salted nuts into the jungle
A good way to replace the salt lost through perspiration, a source of protein and a handy way to remove leeches when they latch onto your ankle. Rub some salt on them and they detach. Don't try to pull them off, you might break a part of them off that could lead to your cut getting infected. 
 

10) If you get a visa in Cambodia, wait in line
We got stung for 500 baht each so that we could get the visa processed quicker, but then had to wait an hour for our bus.
 

11) Fed-Ex accounts are great
When you have to send a request for a document, then have that document sent to a different agency for authentication, then have them send it on to you, it's so much easier with your own Fed-Ex account.

13) It's probably possible, but remember Lesson 2
We've had some fairly serious road blocks thrown up in front of us but have managed to overcome them so far, but you really need to want it to get it.

14) Don't pretend like you know the rules
Just because you've done something similar once before, it doesn't mean it'll be the same this time. If someone tells you what did or didn't work for them, might not be the same for you. Read the instructions before opening the box.
 

15) Don't back-to-back 12+ hour train rides
We took a sleeper train from Phuket to Bangkok then a daytime one from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. We were smelly, tired and pretty darn loopy by the time we got to Chiang Mai.
 

16) Try food you can't pronounce 
It's probably quite delicious and even if it isn't then you know for future reference.
 

17) Trust your instincts
They're probably right.
 

18) Try to have a 'Plan B'
It makes you feel better while pursuing a kinda crazy 'Plan A'.
 

19) Choose your battles
There are people you can

20) Going home isn't giving up
It's not a bad Plan B and you get to fight another day.
 

21) There are always more options than you can see
Don't get discouraged when you suffer a setback. Go for a walk, sit and have a coffee and options tend to start presenting themselves. 
 

22) Don't mix business with pleasure
If you're on holiday, then holiday. Don't try and get a job in a different country and expect to continue the holiday experience. 

Feel free to add Lessons 23+

Monday, December 21, 2009

Family and the Holidays

Just got off skype after a great chat with my family back in the UK. I've been doing alright here in Bangkok, not really missing home all that much. I mean, its cold there! Having talked to the folks back home however, I remember how nice it is to be somewhere you feel as though you really belong.
Fortunately I feel as though Courtney and I create a similar atmosphere with each other. Which is probably how we've spent two months in each others constant company without even coming close to ripping each others' throats out. But we've created that atmosphere with so many factors working against us. We're in a foreign country, staying in an area that is very transient in nature. People come, stay for a week or two, then generally move on. They don't stay and learn the names of the people who serve them breakfast (Pang and Mit). The people that do live here are generally interested in you as a potential source of income. So when I was talking to my parents and little sister it was both heart warming and heart wrenching to see a place where I belong. So much more than here at least.
I guess it's no surprise that, after three kind of tough months here, close to the holidays, I'm feeling a little homesick.
Watching 'The Grinch' and 'Fred Claus' earlier today probably didn't help much.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Life Update

So we're still in Bangkok. On Tuesday, Courtney's newly Apostilled Criminal Record Background will arrive in Korea. Hopefully it'll be given to immigration the next day. We then have up to 10 days to wait for our visa number to be processed. Unfortunately for us, Christmas and New Years might slow down the processing time a little. In anticipation of this, we've booked ourselves in to extend our Thai visas by taking a jaunt across the Cambodian border on the 28th. That'll give us an extra 15 days. During which we'll get our visa number, wander down to the Korean embassy, get our E-2 visa and blow this joint!
Before that, we're expecting some visitors. A few friends from Korea will be joining us in the land of smiles, so that's something to look forward too.
As for our current day to day activities, they're pretty mundane. We've gotten friendly with a couple of the staff at the place we always have breakfast. It's kind of shocking that we've been here long enough to be able to order 'the usual' (muesli and yoghurt, toast butter jam, omlette and rice, two coffees). We usually enter the digital world at least once a day. Mainly to check up on the status of documents and job offers. We read, go for walks and take naps. Recently we've tried to play cards, but neither of us can fully remember the rules to any games suitable for two people. Us trying to play poker was hilarious. We usually end up playing Snap.
Currently, I'm looking into submitting my growing collection of photos into a stock photography agency. It's not as straight forward as I originally thought. First, you need to decide which agency you'd like to apply to. There are three big agencies: Getty, Corbis and Alamy. They deal with a whole range of images. Then there are a whole plethora of smaller, more specialised agencies each covering certain topic areas. The big agencies have the advantage of being big: more reach to get my images 'out there'. They also have the disadvantage of being big: more images to compete against. The smaller agencies have the advantage of recognising specialized imagery (they see a picture and see an IRC super zero maxi, others see a boat). However they might lack the reach of the bigger agencies. It's a full on business agreement I'd be signing up to. Most agencies want you to stay with them for at least 3 years. Some want an exclusive relationship, others don't mind. The advice that I'm getting doesn't seem too clear. One photographer submitted similar images to both a specialist agency and to Alamy. He made a lot more from Alamy apparently. Another photographer advised me to go with a specialist agency as they're more likely to see value in, and accept more, images from me. So there's something for me to ponder on. At the moment I'm leaning towards Alamy, as they're non-exclusive, so I could submit to another, non-exclusive, specialist agency.
Just gotta get accepted!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bronze Award in the International Aperture Awards 2009



Just got an email informing me that, with a total average score of 78, I've won a Bronze award in the category of Science and Nature in the International Aperture Awards 2009.
I'd completely forgotten that I'd entered that competition, but I'm glad that I did. I'm not entirely sure what winning a Bronze Award means. It might be an 'thanks for taking part' award, but it shows that I did better than some of the people who entered. I don't, however, think it means that I came third!
Still, better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.


More Bangkok Birds




Javan Myna (?)
Canon 30D, 300mm IS f2.8
1/1600sec f2.8 ISO100


 Common Myna
Canon 30D, 300mm IS f2.8
1/640sec f2.8 ISO100
 
 Asian Pied Starling
Canon 30D, 300mm IS f2.8

1/1000sec f2.8 ISO100

I was back in the same park yesterday. I was hoping to catch some birds in flight but I'm gonna need to give it more thought as the feathery buggers are a little too quick for me at the moment. As they're park birds I'm thinking of perhaps putting some food on a tree branch and try and catch the birds flying in for the goodies. I tried something like that yesterday, unfortunately I picked the wrong kind of food. I got a 10 baht ham sandwich. I thought that would be great, a bit of bread, a little meat, got most dietary bases covered. However when I noticed that the ants weren't interested in it I realized that the price was the only good thing about that sandwich!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ah, the waiting game.

We've had a couple of lucky breaks. After finding out that we no longer had jobs, we started spamming the Korean job market again. Court decided to call the recruiter offering a nice looking couple position in Incheon. She managed to actually catch him on the way out to the school with other people's applications, so he added ours to the pile for their consideration. Apparently the school liked what they saw and will be sending us contracts! But once bitten is twice shy, so we're still making applications. We've got an interview with a school that might be a regular hagwon or it might be an English Village. I've never been to an English Village but Courtney assures me that they're kinda creepy. You don't teach regular classes, instead you role-play with visiting students. She says its like a 'foreigner zoo'. However the recruiter doesn't know which it is so we have to wait until our interview on Monday to find out.
We've also had some other not so satisfactory offers. One school wanted to pay me less than Courtney because I'm not American. That kinda pissed Courtney off, I found it mildly amusing, having never really been subject to that kind of casual racism before. We also have a job on offer, but only for one of us full time, another part time until February. Another offer also starts in February for both of us and they're looking for winter camp positions to tide us over. Hopefully everything will work out with the Incheon position a) because it looks good and b) it's our only decent offer. That said, we managed to get most of these offers within a day of finding out that we'd lost our first job offer. So that's heartening.
So now we start the visa process over again. Once we get the contracts we'll send off all the documents we need to let the school get started on the visa process. We hope against hope that it'll go smoothly this time. If it does we could be out of Thailand before our visas run out at the end of the month. If not, we'll probably look at doing a visa run to stay in Thailand a little longer. It's not ideal, as we hoped to be out of here before Christmas, but even if we do have to stay longer at least we'll end up in Korea, with jobs.
Fingers crossed.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gosh darn it.

Well that was unexpected. The school withdrew their offer. Courtney and I are once again without jobs. It wasn't great to received that news, but it was better than just waiting to hear back from them. We've now been galvanized into action and have once again started to spam the Korean job market. If anyone knows of any positions teaching kindergarten and/or elementary, or even Winter camp positions, that would be great!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Today we find out... I hope

After a long and often frustrating struggle to get an E-2 teaching visa for Korea it seems that today we might finally find out if our school will have us do the Japan visa run (what we thought we were going to have to do from the beginning).
It's been a tumultuous affair. First we had the difficulty of me trying to get my university transcripts delivered and my criminal background check apostile stamped. That went smoothly enough, until my criminal background check went missing. That was a major worry. It would have taken well over a month to get a new one and would have completely scuppered our plans. Fortunately it didn't go too far. It was left undelivered and so was returned to the UK. From there I had it couriered back out to Korea. We tracked it online and saw that it was signed for by our recruitment office. So imagine my surprise when I called them to check everything was in order and they said that they didn't have it. Eventually it turned out that it had been sent on to our school by someone else in the office.
With that catastrophe averted, another one duly rose to take it's place. Apparently something was wrong with Courtney's criminal background check. We had no idea what, as it's the same document she's successfully used to gain two visas previously. Anyway, that meant running off to the American embassy to see if they could do anything, then calling the American embassy in Seoul and finding out they could do the same service there. It is this recent development that will hopefully lead to us going to Korea and then do the Japan visa run.
Unfortunately, this will be done at our prospective employer's expense. Our recruiter has talked to the school's supervisor, but the supervisor has to discuss it with the director. We were hoping to have an answer either way earlier this morning but our recruiter has told us that the decision will (if all goes well) be made early this afternoon.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Park birds


Black-Naped Oriole


Myna bird

On Saturday morning I got up bright and early to take pictures of the birds that frequent a riverside park that Courtney and I enjoy watching the sunset from. There is a very wide variety of bird species there. Certainly more than I'm used to. Aside from the usual city pigeons and sparrow flocks I managed to spot: common mynas, Asian koels, black-naped orioles, Asian pied starlings, white vented mynas, oriental magpie robins, some sort of barbet, swallows, a night heron and a few others I don't really know.
It was amazing how much wildlife there is in and around that little park, stuck in the middle of congested Bangkok. As well as what I saw on Saturday, Courtney and I also saw a moderately sized monitor lizard sunning itself near the park's toilets. That was a bit of a surprise!
Unfortunately, as it was Saturday, the park was very busy. There were people practicing tai chi, others doing various fitness regimes and a Buddhist sermon of sorts was also being conducted. All of this around 6-7 a.m. Not quite what I'm used to, but apparently Bangkok has the least amount of park space per person for any major city (1.8m² per person). So the fact that it was busy shouldn't have been too much of a shock. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Stuck in Bangkok

It looks like we're stuck in Bangkok for at least a couple more weeks. Still, there are worse places to find oneself stranded.
Having secured ourselves jobs in Daejeon, Courtney and I have found ourselves stuck in Bangkok waiting for our E2 visas to be processed. We were hoping that we would be able to go to Korea, then do a visa run from there to Japan, but that would cost the school money so we've been told to wait it out here. To be fair on Bangkok, its a pretty good place to be stuck. It's cheap to live and the weather is great. On the downside, we're both pretty travel weary so were looking forward to having a proper place of our own. The room we're in at the moment is fine, but we're still right on top of each other and living out of our bags.
We hit a bit of a snag last week. I was having visa documents sent from the UK to a friend in Seoul. One of those documents was my criminal background check that was Apostille stamped. The background check takes up to a month to get and the Apostille check a further week. All my other documents had arrived apart from that. If that got lost, it would have been game over and we would would had to have gone back to our respective homes and worked crappy jobs. Fortunately, the reason that my friend hadn't received it was because it had to be signed for and the 'failure to deliver' notice had been stuck on her neighbour's door. My friend popped along to the post office to pick it up but it had already been sent back to the UK. That was a bit of a blow for us as it would mean waiting another week or so for it to reach the UK then get sent back to Korea before the visa processing could even begin. Fortunately I had been in touch with the Apostille service people so they knew that it was on the way back to them and would resend it as soon as they received it. To our great surprise that happened yesterday, so it will be back in Korea before the week is out and hopefully we will have our visa numbers in a week or two.
As we're on a budget, we're being quite creative with how we spend our time. Our current favourite way to pass the time is to go for a walk and give each other things to lookout for. The first to spot it wins a point. Some things are easy to find, like an image of Buddha, while some take a lot longer, like finding a peacock in one form or another. At the moment, we're tied but Courtney has had the lead for most of the time. It's a fun little game that we're kind of constantly playing as we forget that we were looking for something, then one of us spots it and the game is back on!
On a more productive note, I want to see what I can do about really blitzing Bangkok photographically. The Grand Palace, Wat Pho, the National museum, Khao San Road and a bunch of other big sights are right on my door step, so I should try to get the best images of them as I can while I'm still here.
As always I'll show you the finest selection of the shots that I take :)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chiang Mai to Bangkok Pictures











Chiang Mai to Bangkok Update

We've had a fantastic time in Chiang Mai. We haven't done what most people seem to do here: go on treks to hill tribes and whatnot. Instead we've taken to the relaxed and easy-going attitude of the north. We've pretty much been getting up and going to bed with the sun, which has been interesting.
We've been spending most of our time just wandering about, enjoying the town and its food. We took cooking classes and made four dishes: papaya salad, chicken satay, tom yum soup and khao soy noodle curry. Delicious! We also went along to a dinner and traditional Thai dance show which was great.
Less excitingly, we've used our time to make some serious progress with the Korean job-hunt. We were a little slow getting our CVs out to the recruiters but in one afternoon we applied to about 20 different recruitment agencies in Korea and heard back from about half a dozen of them. We had an interview with a school in Daejeon and subsequently got offered the position, which we accepted! So as soon as the visa madness is sorted we can hop on a jet plane back to the land of the morning calm.
We took a sleeper train down from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. It was quite a chilly night, (which doesn't bode well for us turning up in Korea during the middle of its winter!) and neither of us got much sleep. We decided to stay on the infamous Khao San Road. It was a bit of an ordeal trying to find a place to stay. My huge wheelie suitcase has been slowly dying on me so I decided to ditch it in favour of using the various separate bags I have already. So instead of one backpack and one wheelie suitcase I'm now traveling around looking like a human Christmas tree decorated with luggage. I was walking along with a backpack, a stuffed out satchel, a camera bag and my 300mm lens in its soft case. Still, I have less luggage than some of the chumps staggering around this place. I'm still in awe of Courtney with her small rucksack, small wheelie case and laptop bag. So much better than what I'm lugging! This basically meant that on very little sleep, with about 30+ kg hanging around my neck we were dodging tuk-tuk drivers, tailors and motorbikes, trying to find a place to that stay that a) was a good price and b) didn't look like a place where we'd be killed in our sleep. We did managed to find a very nice place. It was through an alley way and opened into a very pleasant courtyard. They had a Labrador puppy and free coffee and toast for breakfast. So we were sold on that. The room was pretty small and no private bathroom but it was clean and did I mention the puppy?
Arriving in Bangkok, both Court and I were getting pretty saturated with traveling. Little annoyances like not staying in one place for more than a few days, a lack of sleep and the general hustle of being in such a touristy country were starting to wear us down. But we were aware of this and decided to try and take it easy. So far we've still been hitting it up pretty hard. We went off to Wat Pho the day after we arrived. It's an amazing collection of stunning buildings that had me in awe. In the afternoon we went off to Chatuchak Weekend Market, the biggest in Bangkok. We saw crocodile skulls, porcelain bulldogs and Thai cowboys among the usual assortment of clothes, Buddhas and food.
Yesterday we went to Wat Rajnadda, which is home to Bangkok's biggest amulet market. Thai's can be seen wearing reams of amulets and I guess Rajnadda is THE place to get them from. We didn't find the market that interesting, mainly because we don't have a clue about amulets. The wat itself however was fantastic. It was a multi-tiered building that was quiet and cool. You make your way up gradually smaller floors via a central spiral staircase. The top has a shrine and offers great views of the city. After thoroughly exploring that, we wandered along one of Bangkok's many canals and eventually found ourselves at the Golden Mount. It's another temple very close to Wat Rajnadda that has a big golden wat on the top and offers even better views of Bangkok. The wat itself isn't quite as nice as Rajnadda.
Today we've been taking it easy. We've sent off all the relevant documentation to get the ball rolling on our Korean visas. That means that we have to stay in Thailand until we've had our Korean visas processed here. So we've decided to actually try and move ourselves down a notch and try to enjoy a slower pace of life.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Kata to Chiang Mai Update





For the past few days we’ve been doing a whole lot of traveling. We moved on from Kata to Khao Sok National Park. We stayed at the Khao Sok Rainforest Resort for two nights. It was a really nice place and we were very lucky to find it. We took the bus from Phuket to Khao Sok with no real plan other than to turn up. The bus drops you off about 2km from the main grouping of accommodations that line the road to the park entrance. 2 km is pretty far to haul the luggage that I’m lugging around at the moment. I’m certainly not packed for traveling around Thai public transport.
So we got kicked off the bus on this dusty crossroad. Fortunately another foreign couple was kicked off along with us. They had a place booked, so when a fellow with a flatbed truck came up offering free lifts to the hotels we thought we’d just tag along with them. We chucked our suitcases in the back and jumped in with them.
We stayed in a little cabin with a river in front of us and the rainforest behind. It was a nice little get up. We ate at the hotel, and were very happy with what we got. Which for me was mainly pad thai. Love the stuff.
As for the Khao Sok rainforest itself, we hiked 2 of the 4 trails that were open. Most have been closed due to flooding and conservation efforts. We walked about 10km in total. We saw several lizards, a couple of snakes slithering away into the undergrowth, a BIG beetle Courtney named ‘Bert’ (Bert was fantastic), several butterflies, a tiny frog, LOADS of ridiculously large ants clinging annoyingly to the handrails and a family of monkeys crashing through the bamboo. There were also some leeches. The less said about them the better. I’m just glad we brought salted cashew nuts along with us on the hike. As Courtney said, she loves nature, she just doesn’t like it when nature loves her back.
After the Khao Sok Resort we decided to fandangle our way to Cheow Lan lake. It’s still within the Khao Sok National Park and most people take trips there through their hotels. We decided to not take the easy route. It was a bit of a struggle. Buses go close to the lake but stop 10-15 km from where the boats leave. So we managed to get a taxi. Of course our taxi driver had a friend who had a boat. We were told that his boat, for 2,200 baht, wouldn’t leave until 6pm, which would mean a 7+ hour wait for us. If we wanted to leave there an then it would be 3,000 baht. As the place was rammed full of boats, we decided to try and find out what other options were out there. We didn’t have much luck. So our taxi driver was leaving and we didn’t want to be stuck there so I said to call it quits and not miss our ride out of there. Our taxi driver dropped us off at the bus stop for buses to Surat Thani where we would take a train up to Chiang Mai. At the bus stop, Court, in her wonderful glory, decided that we’d come too far to give up now, so she got us a lift back to the boats and we found a boat and a place to stay for two nights with meals included for about 5,500 baht.
I am so glad Court decided we should give it another shot. We stayed in a little floating huts in the middle of the AMAZING lake. It’s really fantastic and I thoroughly recommend it to everyone. We kayaked, hiked to a cave with beautiful formations. We saw gibbons, great hornbills, rhesus macaques, pig-tailed macaques, dusky langurs, eagles and oodles of geckos. Waking up on a lake to the sound of gibbons hooting is not one I will soon forget.
After our time on the lake we hopped a minibus to Surat Thani from where we caught a 12 hour sleeper train to Bangkok. We pulled into Bangkok at 5:30am after not a great deal of sleep. The train was super comfortable but at every stop food hawkers boarded the train and loudly tried selling food. We then caught another 12 hour train at 8:30am to Chiang Mai. That was a bit of a rougher ride, but it was certainly interesting.
Currently we’re in Chiang Mai, enjoying the slower pace of life that goes on here in the north.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Fun in the sun



Courtney and I went snorkeling yesterday. We took a half-day trip out to Khai Nai and Khai Nok, two tiny desert islands off the east coast of Phuket. We snorkeled at three sites and had a great time. The fish were vibrant and inquisitive. There was a mention of an opportunity to see some sharks but sadly that never happened.
I couldn't help but compare the diving to my experience on the Great Barrier Reef in 2007. The Barrier Reef trip involved a 2 hour boat ride out into the ocean before we reached our dive sites so the water was crystal clear and the diversity was amazing. I'm not sure how much the reefs in Thailand have changed as a result of the tsunami or if their relative disrepair is due to tourist traffic.
Still it was a great experience. Even if we didn't go snorkeling, just going out to the islands and sitting on creamy white beaches with the surf lapping at your toes, eating watermelon, would have been enough for me.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Life Update


The last month was a rather busy and extremely informative one. It was spent primarily on the CELTA course. (For those of you that don't know, teaching English abroad is what pays my bills and lets me travel to strange and far-off lands). I took a full-time, 120 hour teaching English as a foreign language course and probably spent about 200 hours on it. The course gives you a LOT of information, fast. Not only does it give you all this new information, you're also expected to assimilate and use it pretty much as quick as you're getting it. It's not an impossible amount of work, but for someone used to working half-days and leaving work at work it was a bit of a shock to the system. The course was incredibly informative and I hope it will prove itself to be as helpful as I expect it to be. It was a bit cringe-worthy, getting told what not to do in the classroom and realising that I was teaching like that not so long ago. Mainly it was the seemingly simple things that I've found to be the most ground breaking for me. The biggest was that every class should have a task-cycle in it: Setup-Task-Feedback (STF). It's super-simple, you basically talk about what you're going to do, do it, then talk about what you did. Mind blowing. So I managed to pass the course with a Pass Grade B, one up from a Pass, one down from a Pass Grade A. I kinda think that on paper the my grade looks the worst as its the only one out of the three that indicates that a better grade is possible! Still, I'm pleased with the result and looking forward to putting it all into practice.
After the course, Courtney came out to join me in sunny Thailand. The course meant that I didn't have any time to explore Phuket properly. A hike through a rainforest and watching the Vegetarian Festival has been about it for experiencing what Phuket has to offer. With that in mind, Courtney and I have decided to spend some time exploring Thailand before settling down to work. Today we've relocated to Kata beach, on the west coast of Phuket island. As a beach town it's much more touristy than Phuket town is, plus it's a little pricier. One night in Patra Mansion, where I was staying in Phuket Town, is 500 baht. Chanisara Guesthouse is costing us 800 baht a night. However it is just a hop, skip and a jump away from the beach. Which is lovely. Soft white sand and warm blue water. You do have to put up with people trying to sell you sarongs, watches and jet-ski rides every 10 minutes, but they're polite and not too pushy. Just smile and say no and they tend to move on. While I'm on the subject of hawkers, we had a fantastically ambitious moped-taxi driver approach us this morning offering us a lift. Nothing unusual about that, three people ride around on mopeds all the time. Three people, two wheelie suitcases, two large backpacks and a laptop bag however don't tend to ride around on mopeds all the time. Kudos for trying.
The food in Thailand is great. Phad Thai is delicious and inexpensive. It's easy to eat to about a £1. It does mean that everything else seems expensive to me as I break down the price of most things to how many meals I could buy for that. Compared to Korean food its a little greasier, but really it depends on what you order. Thailand does seem to have a better range of dishes within each restaurant than Korea does. And while Thai iced coffee is great I do miss Korean coffee.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Butterfly Garden





Courtney and I visited the Phuket Butterfly and Insect Gardens. It's a short tuk-tuk ride outside of Phuket Town and is a nice break away from the usual tourist attraction in Phuket. It has lots of information in Thai and English and I recommend it as a little half-day trip.
Our tuk-tuk driver did however take us to a gem shop. We found it hilarious as the place was full of tourist like us, not entirely sure what they were doing there, surrounded by pearls, rubies and emeralds, being told that, just for today, they're on sale.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Vegetarian Festival







ECC made an offering to the spirits during this morning's Vegetarian Festival parade.. We were all invited to take part in the offering. It didn't require anything of us, just gave us a place to stand and watch the parade. It was an amazing parade, with some quite awesome acts of self-mortification going on.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

All you can eat!

Went along to an all you can eat BBQ last night. It was a similar deal to Korean BBQs in that you have a BBQ in the middle of your table. It's different in several ways however. Firstly, and most importantly, the meat is available buffet style, and you have as much of it as you like! Secondly, and rather annoyingly, the grill top to the BBQ is domed, which makes balancing meat on there rather difficult. There's also a moat around the grill top. We think it's there to boil noodles and such, but we didn't try anything like that.
We were shown by a Thai woman from a table near us that you need to get a bit of fat first to sit on top of the dome to grease it up. She kept giving us encouraging grins from her table whenever meat slid off the dome and splashed into the water. It was pretty funny. Almost as funny as the live performer they had at the restaurant. He didn't seem to be doing much performing of his own. He just appeared to add little guitar riffs and random sound effects to whatever track was playing at the time.
All in all, it was a great way to have a meal.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Jungle trekking!


After coming to Thailand last Saturday evening, I've finally had some free time. Time away from lesson plans, Concept Checking Questions and Student Talk Time. Three of us met up to go along to a gibbon project towards the north of the island. We took a tuk-tuk ride up there, which in itself was a bit of an adventure.
The gibbon project itself wasn't quite what we expected, that said I wasn't quite sure what I was expecting. Perhaps I was hoping for something more visitor centered. This place however was all about the gibbons, which is the point I suppose. After we had a nice chat with one of the volunteers we headed off into the jungle to see the waterfall there. Supposedly the biggest on the island. The guidebook said it was 15 meters. It wasn't more than 4 meters. There is a good chance however that the waterfall we saw was another one entirely. Suitably unimpressed, we pressed on further into the jungle. There was a clear trail and signs along the way, naming plants and commenting on famous events that happened in the area.
We took a plunge in a pool where, long ago, a leper took mud from there to ease his lesions. When he returned home he discovered that the mud had turned to gold. None of that happened with us, but we did have a very refreshing dip. The trek through the jungle went very well. We were walking along, and it started to get a little dark. Not long after the heavens opened. So very fortunately, at that moment, we happened across a covered work area. We took shelter there for a while, a little longer than it took us to realize that in Phuket, especially in the rainforest, it can rain for an exceptionally long time. Already the path was turning into a small stream. So we headed out into the downpour. We got thoroughly soaked, but still managed to enjoy the experience.
This weekend is the beginning of Ngan Kin Jeh, the Vegetarian Festival. It marks the beginning of Taoist Lent, a month long period of purification. Practitioners abstain from meat, alcohol and sex for six days whereupon they fall into a trance and, to prove it, perform acts of self-mortification. They skewer themselves and walk over hot coals. Sounds like it could be quite the spectacle.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Thailand

So I've been in Phuket for a day now. The flight here was great. I don't know how I do it but, like my flight out to Korea, I received an upgrade on the long haul. So no sitting in economy class seating for me.
I arrived in Phuket late last night, so I'm still pretty severely jet-lagged. I didn't get to sleep until the early hours then got woken up at 8am by my alarm. It should pay off soon I hope. I spent all of the morning wandering the streets of Phuket. I got pretty hungry as it took me rather long to stumble across a restaurant that had a menu in English. The place that I finally found was great and I'm hoping to go back there tomorrow morning if they're open early enough.
Today I had the intro to the CELTA course. It wasn't so much an intro as it was the first day of the course. We went through a little admin stuff, got given sheaths of paper to go away and look over and we were given our tasks for tomorrow. Come 2pm tomorrow we'll each be in front of a class of students, albeit for just 15 minutes. The lesson we have to teach is pretty straight forward. I'm under the impression that we're being assessed more on how we relate to the student rather than our ability to convey information. That'll come in later I'm sure. As we were all warned its a full on course, 9-5:30, plus 4 written assignments and lesson prep to be done in our own time. That said it looks to be manageable. I guess after a month of being left to my own devices, as nice as it was, I'm kind of looking forward to having some sort of structure back in my day to day existence. With so much to do I'm hoping that this month will fly by.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ready for the off.

How long would it take you to prepare to move to a foreign country for an indeterminable amount of time? I only ask because it seems to have taken me bloody ages and I'm still not ready.
I've been in the UK for about a month now. I'm pretty much set for my departure this Friday but I still haven't finished all the CELTA precourse tasks, nor have I gotten any baht but the former will be done tomorrow and the latter... Well, I have a long flight ahead of me.
I'm not particularly nervous about the move, partly because I've known it was going to happen for a long while now. Long before I returned to the UK so its not like I've put down any roots here. It might also be that its such a big thing, too big for me to fully comprehend, so I'm not even trying. I don't know the language, I don't know the culture, I don't even know what the job situation is like. But I'm committed to it so I'm going to see it through. Obviously I'll keep you updated on how the whole fiasco goes :)
All this...

...into this.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Minsmere Nature Reserve





I visited the Minsmere RSPB nature reserve today. It's a nice place to visit. There are two 1.5 mile walks dotted with birdwatching blinds. The RSPB looks like they've put a lot of thought into the design of the place. It's just unfortunate that Suffolk has been under a bit of a drought lately and so the lakes there have shrunk and in some cases disappeared. Still, there was a nice selection of birds and other critters around the reserve. My favourite was a magpie that seemed to be following us around the reserve. On second thought, it could have been several magpies...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Inspired





After watching The Lost Land of the Volcano I was inspired to get out search for some wildlife discovers of my own. Granted I may have only made it as far as the back garden and I doubt I discovered any new species but I think I managed to get some interesting macro shots.

CELTA precourse task

Bloody modal auxiliary verbs and progressive aspects and participle clauses. This precourse task that I initially dismissed as just being time consuming is proving itself to be both difficult and time consuming.
As a native English speaker I implicitly know a lot of grammar rules. I can tell when a sentence is correct or not. I'm now realising that I need to be able to explain why its correct as well. This precourse task is actually pretty useful in that respect. It's just my own fault for not having started to chip away at it earlier. Still, I've got over a week to do it.
I have made good progress in other areas of preparation for my move to Thailand. I booked my flight pretty quick, I've got accommodation booked and paid for. I've bought most of the odd bits and bobs I want to take along to Thailand.
That said there's still a whole bunch of little things I need to sort out. Things that I could probably sort out in a well spent day or two. It's just that I've got very good at not doing much with my days. I blame the two evils of broadband internet and satellite television. Obviously it's nothing to do with a lack of willpower or poor time management on my behalf. Hmmm.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Strange Lakes





On a walk along a beach in Seaham, County Durham, I came across these wonderfully colourful lakes. The beach was used as a dumping ground for mining waste until the practice was banned in 1991. The dumping devastated the local ecology but the mineral deposits left behind these strange and interesting pools. Enjoy.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Colchester

Met up with some university friends yesterday in Colchester. We had a great time catching up on the year gone by. It's great to see friends for whom so much and so little has changed. We're all very much the same as we've always been and yet we're all at new and exciting points in our lives. I'm off to Thailand soon, Dan is soon to finish his Masters course and Sean is about to start one. I'm glad to have friends that, after a year of absence I can see again as though no time has passed. Plus playing Halo 3 again with Dan has been a long time coming :)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Getting fit, again.

Went out on a bike ride with Dan yesterday. We covered about 30 miles, which isn't bad for my first time back on the saddle for over a year. I did get the feeling that 'Ironman' Dan was probably finding the ride to be an easy one, despite his claims of also being out of shape.
We went from my folks place, through Ipswich and then towards Hadleigh. I don't really know the area and Dan only has a slightly better idea than me, but he managed to take us on a decent route. It wasn't intended as a training ride, more of something to do while we chatted. It was a great day for it, albeit a little windy.
It's given me some motivation to start to try and get back into proper shape. I shouldn't be too hard on myself, but I can't help but feel like I'm being lazy when, at university, I was spending about 14 hours a week training, which went down to about 5 hours a week, at best, in Korea. Dan did point out that working full time might have something to do with that. Still it would be nice to try and get back into a routine again. At the moment I'm not even getting 5 hours a week in so I should try and make a start soon.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Suffolk Birds