October 23, 2008

Bangkok glows at night

It's a funny thing about cabs and Tuk Tuks in Bangkok. In the mornings they are everywhere. In the evenings, they are only around the night spots and the malls. Having stayed late at the Chulalongkorn University (I'm talking 7 p.m.), there were no cabs in site). So I decided to walk home. Good exercise. Lovely night without rain.

I like walking in Bangkok at night. It is sometimes cooler but more importantly, Bangkok is very different at night. It comes alive. It has a new personality at night. On the streets, small vendors set up shop. One has socks of various colors; another has sunglasses. There is a chocolate stand, tiny squares of lush chocolate, white and dark. School girls in their uniforms crowd around a vendor selling little "knock-off" Lesportsace bags. T-shirts in row after row adorn another stand.

The evening restaurants pop out. Some are no more than roll-along carts like New York's hot dog vendors. Sidewalks that once were walkways, are informal restaurant. You can get corn on the cob cooked over charcoal, or nice bowls of noodles with various types of fish. Tables sprinkle the side walk with people talking, chatting. The stray dogs wander in and out of the tables hoping for a tasty morsel or two. There is the blind man with his boom box singing a beautiful song on a corner spot. His friend stands near. A pandhandler or two dot the street. "Please madame their eyes hopefully beg.

One thing that is important as one walks around the streets is not to avoid people. It is okay to say no you do not want something but if they speak to you, you need to at least smile and acknowledge the person "Not today" They get very upset and shout at you if you don't do acknowledge them.

You can buy cans of soda, potato chips, candy, sun glasses, watches. The massage ladies (reputable) sit outside their shops waving signs. Business has been slow due to the bad publicity Bangkok has received about political unrest. So the signs say "Massage only 149 Baht." Now that is a bargain. That's about $5.

I pause by a park as a few people practice gentle movements of Tai Chi. So beautiful, so fluid. the parks are so beautiful with lush green grass, lovely fountains. I feel a moment of peace. As I near a small shrine. Women sit at their roadside stalls selling incense and small handmade flower wreaths to give thinks to the Gods. I take a moment and reflect and pause myself.

Near the sky trains on the overwalks, young kids break dance. Never under-estimate a Thai young man because he is not as large as African Americans. These young guys are strong. Very strong. They can do the usual tricks. But they add a grace that is strictly Asian. Perhaps a martial arts influence is what makes it different. One young guy balances again and again on one hand. He holds the move longer than one might think possible and then rolls into a unique hip hop spin.

People wait on the streets for a bus ride home. Advertisements on video billboards entertain them as they wait. Zooming up and down the streets are trucks of construction workers. The trucks remind me of cattle trucks with high side railings and cloth cover over the top. Males AND females ride in trucks, all dressed in the same color uniforms with hard hats of the same color on their head. The uniformity in attire reminds me of work crews from the country lock-up in the U.S. But that is not the case. These are the people who keep the city moving. It is cooler to do repairs in the evening hours. I see more women working construction in Thailand than I do in the U.S. and they don't just hold signs. They dig and work along side their male peers.

The lights of the MBK center shine brightly as a beacon light. Finally, I am near the the last cross over bridge Okay good I am not lost. No problem I am almost home. The walk seems long because to cross ever major street, one must walk up two flights of stairs to take the overpass bridge and then down again. A mother with a small child sits with a cup and hopes from contributions for her family. I watch in amazement at his determination, as one man with very deformed legs such that he can not walk on them. Puts sandals on his hands and does a hand stand down the stairs from the sky train walkway. I promise myself that he will get a a donation from next time. I can not walk on my hands at all, let along go up and down steep steep stairs.

Car horns blare at a night. Motorcycles whip in and out of the traffic. If really impatient, they even zoom past me on the side walk. Now that is scary to be walking along and all of sudden there is a motorcycle heading your way. the only negative is crossing streets. One must walk with determination across the street. Any hesitation and the car will zoom past you -- very close. Too close for comfortable for this slow walking American.

Getting closer to my apartment, I cross over the river on the bridge. The lights are bright. Elephant heads stair down, carved into the pillars of the bridge. A stray dog walks by me taking the bridge to who knows where. A girl offers to take my packages. I think she is sincere but I do not know. I talk and chat with her but hold onto my own bags -- just in case.

I look down at the canal from the bridge. At night. the water taxi is lite up and still runs its run, gliding down the glossy river. Carts are pushed up and down the sides of the roads with various food items. The vendors roll them to new and different spots if business is slow. Near the malls music booms out as various musical acts perform.

As I pass the shop where I usually get a massage, they wave. "Tonight madame?" they ask. "No, maybe tomorrow." They are always hopeful about business. But it has been too slow. I stop at my favorite corner market to pick up some coke lite. The owner lady sits ironing. Every baht matters in Bangkok's small family businesses. Her son sits at a desk, ready to translate for the Americans who need help. His books are open. He hopes to be finish college and work as a translator. His English is quite good. He laughs at my silly jokes. Perhaps I need some potato chips too.

I like Bangkok at night. It is a different city than the Bangkok of the day.

October 21, 2008

Becoming a Traditional Thail Beauty in One Hour or less

I've always liked to play dress up. I danced as a kid and loved wearing the hula costumes that swished, the calypso outfit with all the ruffles, the flowing modern dance out. In an earlier life, I dressed up and participated in mountain man re enactments. I wore a traditional Shoshone Indian outfit, had a lean to I lived in, hair types with fox, hand beaded shoes with gorgeous red poppies on them and I could outshoot most guys with my black powder gun.

Now you might wonder that this has to do with Thailand. Not much except to say that I always like to dress up and try different things. So when the opportunity presented itself to have my picture taken wearing traditional Thai clothing, I thought it would a great fun memory photo to hang on my wall with my mountain woman picture, my dog show picture and other quirky things.

So We began with my hair. I have short brown-red hair which does not lend itself for exotic styling. My Thai boy-woman was extremely beautiful,long silky hair, long legs, pretty face, just a bit throaty voice. Hilariously funny. S/he first applied basic make up to focus on my eyes. We even attached false eyelashes. Then I got voluptuous read lips. Kissable I think. My hair which is cut short and symmetrical was pulled back. one bun and then another wiglet that matched the color nearly perfectly was filed on top. not one but two wiglets. It reminded te wiglet I wore in 1966 for the yearbook picture. Fortunately, this one was on straight. the 1966 wiglet was crooked and m hair was wilted.

Next we chose a color them. I said I wanted to be a red hot mama so red it was. We wrapped the silk material two or three times around. Tighter, tighter. Maybe a corset would have been better. Now I now why some Asian women have smaller breasts.They are wrapped to tight to grow. NextPost Options it was the skirt which was also wrapped and then pleated in front Indian fashion, I got shiney cold bejewled belt to wear, Three big fake rings adorned my hands and gold bracelets were on my arms,

Now the real challenge. They expected yours truly to walk in gold high heals. And to climb acorss a door war in a flowing skirt. Hah that one was alaught. I looked about as graceful as cowgirl with her foot stuck in a milk bucket. They too 15 poises. I had negotiated the price to 2000 baht or about ($60) and a CD of all the pictures. Hmm I bet I can talk my friend into a little photoshop fix to enhance my natural beauty.

Well, don't tell my students. I allowed them up negotiate me to four big 8 X 10 photos and 4 small ones I redressed and we picked the photographs agreeing on what I wanted right then and there. We agreed on cropping and of course a little botox for the side of my eyes. I wanted to be almost as pretty as the king of Thailand. The grace to walk in the shoes she walks in -- well that's isn't going to happen.

Of yes, I felt like what was her name May West stuffed in an outfit when I was asked to recline on a bench with my lacks outstretched. Luckily I got to hold a fan to hid what needed to be hidden. And I got to be a serious warrier in one shot. Don't mess with me and this sward.

The name of the place --and they do singles, couples, families and even normal pictures -- is Studio Thai Style on the third floor of MBK. Their only failure, is I still don't look like I am 30 years young.

My worse part is that they take the pictures out in front of their studio so all passer-bys can see how you look, watch the strategy and I assume want to do do the same thing. I had two elder gentlemen (cute handsome) walk by and then come back for a second look. They both gave me a thumbs up sign. I certainly hope it means the same thing in Thailand that it means in the U.S. I baited my fake eyelashes and flushed slightly with my Thai feather fan. I proper Thai girl would never talk to a Thai man first. A property introduction is even better.

Okay let's see if I can add some pictures. Well since I can't figure out how to add them I will have to forgot this. If anyone knows how to add the pictures, let me know. Insert isn't working.

So here of the grand results. We're taking votes on your favorites. I'm not sure how to do that but I guess put a comment by the picture

October 3, 2008

Examination Day At Chula!

As a professor for more than 25 years, I've given many examinations to undergraduates, graduates and PhD students. In courses imparting basic knowledge, examinations are, in my opinion, a necessary evil. With the exception of mastery learning, a test of any kind (workplace or classroom) is not useful unless it discriminates. It must discriminate in the classroom on the basis of knowledge acquisition, not gender, race, social-economic class, country of origin etc.

Examinations can be in class rituals or take home, open book or closed book, a series of quizzes or a midterm and final, electronic or pen and paper, scheduled or unannounced. The format can be multiple-choice, short answers, essays, case-based, data driven, philosophical or fact based. The choices are pretty much left up to the instructor and her approach to instruction and learning. Class size, course type ( (survey, upper division, elective or required), type of program (undergraduate, graduate, PhD, Executive) are all factors ferreted into the professor's decision about the type of examination to give. Other factors include the professor's commitment to teaching, the time available to grade the examination, tenure status,availability of a grader instructional style and the importance of teaching evaluations also can have an impact on decisions.

In sum, as an American professor I am used to a great deal of freedom when it comes to examination design, administration content and timing (except the time of the final). I was surprised Wednesday to be greeted in the classroom I'd been assigned by a bow-tied gentleman who said he was my exam proctor. My first thought? What had I done that I was being proctored? (yes a little paranoid, I know). Was it because I was an American professor and didn't know how to do it the Thai way? Nah I thought. But then I learned differently.

There were prescribed procedures for giving examinations at Chulalongkorn. Before my arrival, he had affixed numbers to each desk-chair in the room. Extra chairs had been pushed to the side. I had ordered 32 examinations and there were 32 numbered chairs. On the projector screen at the front of the class were the rules.
1. Books and all materials at the front of the class room
2. Sit in the seat assigned by your class number on the role
3. Take care of bodily needs BEFORE sitting down. No bathroom breaks allowed
4. Begin as soon as you sat down

No students had been allowed in the classroom yet. He wanted to make sure I was satisfied with the way things were arranged. "Definitely", I said. "Most impressive." I thought to myself that they really take examinations seriously here.

In typical professor style, I had rushed to the office to pick up the photocopied examinations right before class. I had been given a sealed envelop and asked to sign for the examinations. I did. In the classroom, I finally opened the enveloped. Affixed to the front of "my examinations" was a one page note describing the University's rules on examine taking and the penalty for cheating. "Wow, I said to myself this IS a big deal here."

As the students arrived, he reiterated the rules about sitting in the right seat. He had a list of students with their chair numbers with him as he walked around. As the students moved into their seats, he gave them the eagle eye and a quick scan. I began to look too -- just to make sure no notes or anything. This was the first examination I had given in Thailand.

As I stated the rule to not put their name on the examination (only student number), he updated his powerpoint slide for the overhead project. Hmm good idea I think. Then I don't have to reiterate things 10 times. He did the same when I fixed a couple of typos in a question. Up on the slide the information went.

About 30 minutes into the examination, he grabs the list of students. One by one he stops by their desk and asks them to produce their student ideas with their pictures. One third of the way through, he stops at a student's desk. The young man said he has no identification with him. My proctor crinkles up his face. He asks again. Same response. No identification. The proctor comes back and tells me this is serious. He's calling the office. I tell him I know the young man is in the class but I don't know his name (embarrassing as it is, I haven't learned all their names and Thai names are long. But I know he is in the class, I say. The proctor leaves. I've called, he saying walking back in.

He keeps checking IDs. One young woman says she has ID but it's in her backpack. He nods to me and I give permission for her to fetch it out of her pack. She does and all is well. There are no more problems checking IDs. My proctor still paces. "I'm going to check again with the office. They said they were coming," he states, a determined look on his face.

Five minutes later, one of the administrators from the EBA program arrives with a list of students (and their pictures) in her hand. He motions to her and directs her to THE student. She confers with the proctor, finds the young man's name on her list of students. She looks twice at the student and nods. Whew, I say under my breathe. If the student wasn't anxious, I certainly was. I take a big sip of my cola lite to relax. While I am too far away to hear exactly what she says to the young man, it looks like a lecture to me. Out she goes, giving me a smile and wave.

The examination proceeds with no more hitches. The proctor puts a big computerized countdown clock on the screen. Boy, if you are an anxious test taker like me, that should push you over the top. But the students seem unfazed.

My proctor flashes one more rule on the screen as he tells students to leave their examinations on their chairs when they are finished. One by one they file out. The last three (some of my most vocal students in class) take the full three hours to do what I thought was a 2 hour examination. If you've got the time, why not use it?

After they leave, he carefully collects the examinations in reverse numerical number (highest to lowest number). Showing pride in his job with his smile, he hands them to me and tells me it has been a pleasure working with me.

After the examination, I sit and think for a few minutes. At first, I think that the Thai exam ritual is a bit silly, a bit over the top. But then I think better. I remember the few cheating situations I have experienced in my 25 years. While not many, they were time and anxiety producing for me. I gave those examinations myself. I had no second set of eyes watching with me. It felt really good having someone else there in the classroom with me to back me up. Darn right, I liked this process alot.

I thought about my colleagues as well as myself and cheating. I thought part of the problem in the U.S. system and probably many places is that we DON'T take examinations serious enough. We assume they have read the rules on plagiarism. We assume they know the university's policy on cheating. We assume they know what cheating is. But do they? There isn't a course in topic (although I suspect there may be some street learning on how to cheat).

But I now think that the Thai system is good. By enforcing a set ritual regarding testing, by restating the rules (e.g. coversheet on the test) and by having a proctor present, they signal everyone ( students, professor, administrators) that education and academic honesty are important.

As a Fulbright scholar, my purpose in being in Thailand is to learn, to teach and to exchange. On this day, I learned some valuable lessons from my Thai colleagues.