Barbie movies and Elvis

I’d like to learn more about teaching English through music. It was a nice idea at first, but when I was actually in the classroom and dealing with 33 sixth-graders it’s the last place I want to have a musical instrument. I'd like to know of research or actual programs of English which incorporate music as a fundamental tool. If you know of anything, sing out. I once thought lute song might be a good vehicle, but it has to be for advanced studies, and especially for students with some experience with “early music”, Shakespeare and drama. Perhaps that would mean university age people unless I could manage to run across gifted students of high school age. I'm not going to try and sell it anymore. When I had some of these songs together long ago I applied for Young Audiences in Portland. The board who auditioned me really could not see how they might be of much use, and they didn't hire me. I certainly wouldn't try to play them for kids who aren't able to be silent, and that means most kids. I feel almost certain these sorts of songs would be wasted on most children. I’d use my ukulele with them.

The new position will be in Chon Buri City, approximately halfway between Bangkok and Pattaya in an area that is supposed to be growing fast. The school is being built now and seems more than halfway completed. The word I got is that I must report for duty there by March 18. They apparently feel the facility is complete enough. I’ve been told to prepare for chaos and confusion—the normal amount I’ve been warned to expect, but then a hefty dose on top of that because of everything being new. My plan is to use that to start slowly and build my skills as a music teacher/choir director as the student enrollment grows. I tell myself it’s impossible they would expect a fledgling music department to start off with a bang, but I expect to have to begin some sort of Christmas program quite early in order to pull it off, perhaps as early as September. I went with several administrators from this school in a school van a few weekends ago just to see the place, meet the director, and see what the city is like. I found Chon Buri City difficult to get around. There are some motorcycle taxis, but they are not common like Bangkok. I did not see a single metered taxi when I was there. Everybody seems to take the mini-songtaews or drive a scooter or car. There appears to be a shortage of housing close by the school, but I have been informed that they have purchased some “condos” very near. This will be shared housing. I can stay there if I need to, so I asked for a reservation, at least until I get my footing. I wonder what kind of roommate I’m gonna get.

I was out of a job when I got hired at this school so I asked if they would let me work temporarily at another campus until it was time to move and start at the new place. Sure enough, they needed someone at their Suksa school, but I had to do a fast move. It’s all the w­ay across Bangkok, entirely too far away to commute from my other apartment and they required me to start immediately. I showed up for the first day at work with a suitcase, having asked the Head of Foreign Teachers (who OK’d my hire) if he liked where he lived, what the rent was, are there any vacancies. He set it up for me and I took it sight unseen. The best thing about the place is the apartments are completely new. My room had never been lived in. And they allow month-to-month rental, I can’t afford to lose anymore deposits. I lost the deposit at my last place and was fined a month’s rent because I signed a year’s lease but left without giving a month’s notice. I spent hardly a month there, but it couldn’t be helped. That’s behind me and I’m moved in now, but I was quite surprised and a little dismayed to find that my new home is situated more than 30 minutes by car from this school. I wouldn’t have chosen it, but I just didn’t have time to shop for a place. The guy is letting me commute with him, which might be pleasant if he didn’t have an eight year old daughter who watches Barbie movies most mornings. Have you seen these animations by Mattel? I know them well now, we usually watch them every morning because there’s a DVD player and screen in his dashboard. If it’s not Barbie movies, it’s Elvis. He loves Elvis.

I have had sinusitis for over two weeks. It must have been developing since I had the two back-to-back colds from around Christmas. I had low level sniffles for around six weeks after that, but it eventually flared up on a Sunday and I started feeling ill. I asked around and found a clinic not far from me, so Monday night I headed that way. I caught a mini-songtaew to the crossroad north of me and tried to switch to a taxi. After only a few blocks it became clear he could speak no English, could not read the address I had written on a piece of paper, and was unable to read the Bangkok map I presented to him. My Thai is still totally inadequate. Only 2 baht had accrued on the meter in that time, so I paid him and got out. A motorcycle policeman was right there. I walked up to him and asked him where the clinic is. He offered to take me there and refused to accept money for the ride. 

First order of business was to get the health documents I need for my work permit: blood test results and a physician’s certificate that I’m in good health. The Thai government requires me to have a certificate of health as well as proof that I don’t have syphilis. They wanted to give me a chest X-ray but I said no, and they didn’t have a problem with it. I am puzzled though why they require a syphilis test but not HIV. I would think HIV is a far worse problem. Only after I received those documents did I ask to see both ear/nose/throat and orthopedic specialists for my ailments. Sinus guy said I need to be on antibiotics for at least three weeks. At that time he will assess whether or not I need my sinus’ scraped. I Googled that last night and was appalled, sure hope I don’t need it. Bone guy had a look at my knee which has been hurting for some time. I submitted to X-rays for this. He said I have a common “defect” that causes problems for older people. I guess I’m wearing out, or it's arthritis. The blood test, X-rays, consultation with both orthopedic and ear/nose/throat specialists and five prescription drugs cost me about 2,000 baht. That’s probably about as much as the deductible on my insurance for just one of those services back in the states. The business was run very smoothly, and I’m satisfied with the quality of care.

I need to get a new visa before I can get a work permit. It’s called a Type B Non-Immigrant Visa, and I'm leaving in about 10 minutes to catch the bus and head to Laos. There was a lot of paperwork which was prepared by the school. I have to provide proof of my citizenship and education. A bachelors degree is required by the school to get the new visa, and it apparently must be accompanied by transcripts. I provided both my masters and bachelors degrees, but I have transcripts only for my masters. It’s the latest and greatest, why wouldn’t they want that? As it turns out they don’t care about the masters at all for this purpose, and I don't have transcripts for the bachelors. I'm hoping everything will be alright without it. 

Today is Monday and it’s a holiday, Makha Bucha Day. The visa run service leaves at 7:00 PM, drives all night long and we arrive around 4:00 AM. I won’t go over it again, it’s the subject of a recent post. Wish me luck. 

New job, new visa

It’s taken me a while to get to where I want to write further about myself and what’s happening in my life. Time seems to have accelerated now that a new year has come and a lot has happened since my last post, so I've been feeling I better write about things before I forget. It's a coincidence that my last post was about a visa run to Laos, and tomorrow I leave on the same trip again, with the same visa run service, this time to get another kind of visa you need in order to get a work permit. This holiday weekend (Magha Puja) marks six months that I've been here. In that time I finished the TEFL course, took way too long to get a job, then got fired from my first job for “age related” reasons (the closest thing to an explanation I could elicit from the agency I was working for) after only six weeks.

A month ago I found another position as music teacher with a large chain of private schools throughout Thailand. The result is that I've moved all the way across Bangkok twice. I haven’t had much fun yet here in Thailand, it’s been a fair amount of stress and worry. I keep looking around me and seeing many foreigners who are happy as larks, so have begun making a point, when I can engage in conversation, of asking for reasons to love this place. The responses that come to mind are largely ones of dissatisfaction with their home country. That’s not my reason, I think the US is great. Others stay here because they now have a family to support. I don't have much to do with fans of the sexy fun times available here and I won't go into their reasons. I wanted to live in and experience a foreign country before I get too old to do such a thing. From what I read Thailand seemed to be the easiest of places in Asia to get one's footing. I think I had a harder time than most getting a job, maybe now I can begin to relax and try to learn how to have more fun.

My plan was to spend one year here and reassess. Now it will be to finish out the school year to March 2014 and be able to call myself a choir director. I do have high hopes for this new school. They give actual feedback by assessment, and opportunity to change instead of wheeling you out to the curb if you aren't making the grade for some unknown reason. The pay isn't good. The good things I see is the aforementioned feedback, they hire directly, have good holidays and don’t seem to discriminate against age or race. There are plenty of older guys here, a few have been here at this one school more than 10 years. There’s quite a bit of grumbling in the lunch room, but apparently they treat you well enough that most stay. It's also interesting to note that they employ more Filipinos than farangs as well as a Ghanaian and a Nigerian.

Yes, music teacher. I really didn't think I’d get the job but I applied for it anyway, and what do you know--anything can happen in Thailand. Helping to start a choir is in the job description. I’ve never taught music before but music is what my degrees are in, albeit performance. I’ve been looking around online for instructional articles doing Google searches like “How to start a choir”. One of them advised simply announcing a date and time, and then just do it. I liked that one the best, though I am now lurking around in ChoralNet hoping to pick up some tips. After thinking about buying some book or other that will go into depth on the subject, I realize I’m not quite sure how I would get a good one delivered here. Amazon will ship here, but last time I checked into buying something and having it delivered to Thailand I learned shipping cost was way more than the cost of the item. That may be my only option if I can’t find a comprehensive instructional on the web somewhere. Well, sink-or-swim is another option but I’d rather not do that. I’m haven't found an alternative here in Thailand.

Also have been thinking I should get my butt in gear, dust off the lutes, tune them up and begin practicing again. When I moved here there was the thought that I might need them at some point as the only way I can prove I’m a musician. I am assuming there’s a possibility I may need to perform something when I start the job, just to show I’m for real. I can show my degrees and transcripts, but performance is the sort of thing you have to put up or shut up. The guy who interviewed and hired me actually asked me to bring my instrument with me to the interview. He is not a musician, and cared only to listen to me tune, noodle a bit, describe the instrument/history/repertoire and then play a one-minute long prelude from a French lute composer.  “OK that’s enough” he said, and I was hired. It strikes me from that experience and others (Saturday morning readings at a Chatujak coffee shop) that such music might not fly in Thailand. It’s much too sad and slow, too subtle, complicated, quiet and introspective. There's so much noise here. The average Thai cannot be in love with noise, but they are surely inured to it. It's pervasive and nobody seems to care. I’m sure there are some who would like this music if they could experience it. A society of classic guitarists seems the most obvious place to look, though I never know. I once experienced a most appreciative audience long ago at one of my first concerts, attended by some retired Episcopal organists in town for a convention. Would Buddhist monks or English professors appreciate lute music?

Perhaps English lute song would be most interesting to people who are engaged in English language study but who aren't particularly interested in solo lute playing. For that reason it’s been lute song that I've been looking at brushing up, the more spirited the better but stopping short of the bawdy. I’ve tried singing naughty songs, but I just can’t pull it off in front of and audience of strangers. I tend to blush. I used to know 3 or 4 lute songs by John Dowland to play and sing as well as Morley’s great “It was a lover and his lass”, which is about as close to rip-roaring as a lute song gets. I used to be able to nail it, and yes I simplify the most difficult tablature passages if I’m singing as well as playing. I’ll probably do “Flow my tears”, one of Dowland’s most depressing but substantial songs, back to back with “It was a lover”, one of the most spirited lute songs ever. There are easier ones like “The lowest trees have tops” and “Come again, sweet love doth now invite”, both still really nice. It might be best to end on a high note so maybe start low and subdued with “Lowest trees”, followed by the delightful “Come again”. If I fit the dark “Flow” after that I could end with a bang with the cheerful “It was a lover”. I don't know, if these seem too hard I'll replace one with "Now, oh now I needs must part", the easiest lute song I know. But programming can wait, for now just need to get them back in shape.