Monthly Archives: April 2019

Group Projects

I know I complained in my last post about how group papers are more awful than group presentations, but let’s pause for a moment to appreciate the group presentation I had today. 

For some inexplicable reason, the professor decided to make “peer evaluation” 50% of the grade. Now, let’s recap. Do Thai students pay attention in class? No. Do they focus on the professor when he talks? No. So, do you think they magically pay attention when a fellow student talks? Not on your life.

Maybe he hoped the responsibility of grading the other groups would mean people would stay engaged. I can confidently say that did not work. While presenting, I looked out across the room and saw….someone sleeping, two people with earbuds in, and exactly everyone on their phones. Not that my group acted much better. The girl next to me ate her breakfast (very pungent rice and liver) and then started talking on the phone (all while groups presented.) 

At least the professor was not on his phone. I’ve had some presentations here where the professor spent most the class period scrolling through Facebook. 

My group decided to put me in charge of the “peer” evaluation. Except, I am not really a peer. I am a former debate coach and captain who judges high school forensics for fun. Tell me to evaluate and I will evaluate. Just probably more than anyone expects. 

The professor handed out evaluation sheets and I professionally filled out my information on the ballots evaluation sheets within a matter of seconds. I then waited, pen poised, for the first group. Of the 10 groups present, mine went nearly last so I got to witness quite a bit. 

Different groups struggled with different things. Consistently, but I stress differently with each group, I noted lack of eye contact, a tendency to read block paragraphs off the slide, and a habit of sitting on the floor while other group members presented. I kept thinking, ‘Our group should do so much better.’

But oh, oh, oh, how wrong I was. My group got up there and literally did every. single. thing. I criticized the other groups for doing. My groupmates mumbled into the mic. They read block paragraphs from the slides. They sat on the floor. They chatted amongst one another while someone else presented. I suppose I did not actually see them avoid eye contact, but I did watch them stare avidly at the paper in front of them instead of looking up so I can only imagine what it looked like to the listeners. 

 That is, presuming someone actually listened. 

Group Papers

I have discovered something worse than group projects: group papers. 

The first time a professor assigned one, I thought maybe it was a fluke. Like, he did not think through what he was asking and accidentally assigned 4 of us to write 1 paper instead of 1 of us writing 4 papers or something. But now I know better. I think I have had a group paper due in every single class.

To put it mildly…I am not a fan.

Think of all the hassle of a group project. Now imagine the stress of writing a paper. Put them together. 

99.9% of the time I look at our finished work and think, “I do not want to put my name on that.” 

To give credit to my classmates, they are undergraduates and English is their secondary language. I admire them for trying. They do their best.

But besides being a native English speaker and grad student, I am a trained legal writer and editor. I expect more from myself and any work I turn in. 

It creates a difficult tension. On the one hand, I am stressed because I just read through my classmates’ writing three times and I’m still not sure what they are saying. At the same time, outside of completely rewriting everything, there is not much I can do to change it. Helpful hints only go so far when your audience does not see a problem. 

It does not help any that we have not gotten back any grades for group papers yet. I just keep telling myself, “Surely the professors cannot expect more than what your classmates are turning in. This must be the norm.” Right? Right?

Rating Grab Drivers

Grab = Uber here in Thailand

It occurs to me that maybe I have low expectations for my Grab drivers. After each trip, the app asks me to rate my driver. And I think to myself, “Well, he did not try to kidnap me. That seems like a 5 star trip to me.” 

If I’m feeling truly pleased with my driver, I might tip them. But then again, I might tip them if they freaked me out and I just want them to go away and not stick around finding me change. 

Besides stars, you can rank drivers based on “cool rides” and “great music” and “good navigation skills.” If I really, really like my driver, I’ll usually check all the boxes even if they did not turn on the radio or say a word to me. 

Sometimes, however, drivers get really into these categories. Like, I rode in one car where the driver had a small TV so not only did you get to listen to music, you got to watch the music videos too. Drivers also seem to switch to American pop music when they see me. I’m not always sure how I feel about that. 

I had a motorcycle taxi driver today I generally liked. He actually hesitated about two seconds longer than normal at intersections. I thought maybe he valued safety. Then, as we neared our destination, we came upon a stretch of cars parked bumper to bumper. And instead of slowing down, he picked up speed. I kept thinking, “It is a shame I’m going to die with this person I know nothing about except that he has a pleasant smile.” 

I rated him 5 stars. 

Save the Popcorn

I saw Avenger’s Endgame (sooo good) this afternoon with friends. They were running late so I bought all the popcorn and drinks. I did not make it far.


It was too risky balancing it all so I stood over the popcorn for a good 20 minutes. The cleaning lady kept glaring at me.


I like to think I can handle just about anything I encounter here in Thailand. Public toilets without plumbing? Sleeping on a bamboo floor? Rice at every meal? No problem!

But I have one first world problem that despite great efforts, I cannot seem to get over: I cannot stand all the fruit with seeds. 

Watermelon? Seeds. Grapes? Seeds. Rambutan? Seeds. Bananas? Seeds. (Well, one large seed that maybe was actually a rock.) Canned black olives? Seeds.

I know. It is the most petty thing in the world. But when I nearly lose a molar biting down on a canned black olive, well, it puts me in a less than cheerful mood. I don’t expect it. I don’t expect seeds in my grapes. Or that my watermelon smoothie will come with crushed black specks. Or that whatever Thai fruit I am trying will become an experiment in nibbling the edible part away from the very inedible seed. 

It truly makes me feel like a spoiled American. And yet I must confess, seeds are my nemesis.  

The Little Things

My first two months living abroad were an exercise in powerlessness. By powerlessness, I mean the feeling of “I don’t know what to do.” Everything around me came with a learning curve. Transportation, food, working the air conditioning…literally all of it took effort. But over time, I mastered them. And then I moved on to the next set of challenges: developing a social life. It took a while. Again, though, I eventually made friends and found a church and braved the masses playing tourist. The last two months I feel like I really hit my swing.

But there are days like today when the last four months rewind and I feel powerless again.  When that happens, I’m generally not in a situation where you would expect powerlessness. I did not lose my debit card or miss my bus stop and end up on the outskirts of Bangkok again. I am not battling with hundreds of people to get my visa renewed. No, I feel powerless because all the little things keep adding up and I finally crack. 

Little things like:

  • My bus to school costs 14 baht instead of 13 baht. And I do not know why. Did it change permanently? Is it because I’m riding on a Thursday? Or because I’m riding ten minutes later than I normally do? Was I just taken advantage of? It is the same distance. The same bus. The same commuters. But some days I’m charged 13 baht and some days 14 and sometimes even 15. And I cannot find the pattern, the rhyme or reason. A tiny thing in the big picture, but then…
  • My professor absent-mindedly starts speaking Thai, or shows a slide in Thai, or tells us “since you all took Thai Civil Procedure, I will not spend any time on this part.” But of course I have not taken Thai Civil Procedure. I do not know Thai. I feel like I am missing something critical. Maybe a classmate sees my confused face and leans over to translate. Maybe the professor apologizes and explains to me. Or maybe I am just left in the dark. A little thing, but for a few moments I feel helpless and like I am missing something critical. I feel like a failure for not grasping the subject. 
  • My school cancels class. Again. Or schedules a make-up class with less than 24 hours notice. Suddenly, I’m scrambling to remember what is going on and where I am supposed to be. Chances are I have a class conflict. Then I’m wondering which course I should attend and if someone will grab notes for me in the other one. I feel like a terrible student but I do not know what to do. I cannot be in two places at once. I haven’t been to Fundamental Rights in 5 weeks. I’m a failure. 
  • The convenience store lacks whatever I am looking for. I cannot find the pattern for when they carry certain things and when they don’t. Some days the store overflows with food. Some days the shelves look bare. Some days I can find cake; some days they carry Oreos. But then the next month they do not carry either. Such a weird thing to leave me feeling unstable, but I do feel unstable. I am used to stores running out, but I am not used to stores not quickly replenishing their stock when they do. Or, you know, not ever carrying that thing again. Imagine a Wal Greens where the snack options randomly disappear and reappear every few months and only endless rows of dried seaweed and ramen stayed the same. But you have no explanation for why. It just is.

In the big scheme of things, none of these things matter much. An additional class, an extra baht, one less day with chips. But added together, these little moments of powerlessness add up. I cannot find the pattern. I cannot accomplish the thing. Panic sets in. And even though it is just momentary panic, add enough of them together and I feel a bit like a pin ball machine. 

Then add extreme heat, humidity, millions of other humans, and taxi drivers with a perchance for charging you triple the actual price and I start thinking nostalgically of the misery that was my schedule last semester. 

My friend, Ginnie, sent me a quote from a book she is reading and I love the way it sums up the emotion (albeit of Vietnam, not Thailand specifically): 

“Because life in Vietnam is one body-crushing, must-do, crowd-throbbing, mind-heavy, event after another. It takes all my energy just to react.” Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

All my energy just to react. Welcome to life abroad in Asia. 

Walking in the Sun

If I am walking down a half-shaded sidewalk, I will walk on the sunny part. If someone whips out an umbrella to use as a sun shade, I will politely decline. If waiting for the bus, I will avoid the shade of the tree. 

I do not know if it is an Amy thing, or a non-Asian thing, or an American thing, but it keeps happening and my friends here keep commenting: I gravitate towards the sun.

Partially, I think the reason is that I take other steps to avoid the sun. I wear floppy hats and sunglasses and long sleeves. I look like I have a sun allergy half the time. I might as well enjoy my protection. 

Partially, I think my Asian friends avoid the sun because they want to avoid getting tan. I have no fear of tanning. I mean, I burn. And, yeah, lobster red is not my favorite color. But I know at the end of the day it will fade and I will go back to pasty white. So, I do not fear the consequences of the sun (outside of a general fear of skin cancer, of course, but I doubt standing under a tree will help me much there.)

Partially, I think I gravitate towards the sunny areas because no one else is standing in them. There are so many people in Bangkok. If I see a square foot without another human being, I’m going to go stand in it. Because why not? 

Partially, however, I think I gravitate to the sun because…why not? Maybe I do not know better. I have managed to avoid bad sunburns. And while it has been warm, only recently have the temperatures consistently reached three digits. (Plus, once again, I doubt being under a tree will help much when it is 101 degrees with 70% humidity.)

But whatever the reason, it is noticeable enough for people to comment on my weird affection for the light!

(Joke is on them because as a redhead I need less vitamin D and will therefore survive longer when the apocalypse hits and we all hide in basement bunkers.)

Happy (Belated) Resurrection Sunday!

Happy (Belated) Resurrection Sunday, everyone! I got back late Friday night from Krabi and discovered I had a presentation due Saturday morning. For better or worse, after staying up late finishing it, I showed up to class and the professor decided to cancel all presentations. 

On Sunday I attended a pot luck at my church. I brought root beer and Doritos, thinking it a fitting American combination. This was a mistake. The non-native English speakers couldn’t get past the word “beer” in “root beer.” I kept trying to explain it was soda, but no one believed me! Half the group refused to try it and the other half furtively shoved cans in their respective backpacks and purses without making eye contact. 

I convinced my friend Sunny to take a sip and after the teeniest of swallows, she announced: “Bitter beer!”

Which was, of course, the nail in the coffin. 

The pastor and his wife are from Texas and found the whole thing hilarious. To the rest of the church, however, I am the girl who brought two cases of beer to the Southern Baptist church potluck.

(Potluck being another confusing English phrase, half the church confusing it with “jackpot” and assuming some form of gambling.) 

The Trip Back From Mae Sot

Of course, even the best laid plans go awry and our trip back from Mae Sot proved no different! After another adventure plunging down the mountain in the back of a truck, we headed to the bus stop…only to find out there were no more seats available on the bus to Bangkok! We were told to grab a bus to a different providence, with the possibility that we could get tickets to Bangkok from there. 

So we got on a bus to Tak province. 

Unlike our bus ride to Mae Sot, however, this was not a smooth ride. The police kept pulling the bus over. Or maybe they pulled everyone over. I’m not sure. All I know is that every hour or so, the bus got pulled over and everyone had to bring out their passports and show their visa to the masked cop. 

It interrupted any attempts on my part to nap and put me in a very ill humor with the Thai police. 

Not that they actually showed much concern for me. In fact, compared to my friends, I barely got any notice from the police. One glance at my white skin (or even worse, syllable from my English speaking mouth!) would send them hurrying away. But the others underwent stricter scrutiny. Thailand is a very racial system. 

While sitting on the bus, one of the attendants walking around asked who wanted to go to Bangkok. (At least, I assume she asked that. Thankfully, some family/friends of Mae Sod’s were also traveling to Bangkok and able to translate a little.) We said we wished to go and the lady demanded a certain sum of money. She then scribbled on a piece of paper and told us to present it at the bus stop!

It was not the most formal way to transfer buses, but thankfully it worked. Once we arrived at our destination, they whisked us onto the next bus to Bangkok. We got back around midnight. 

By this point, neither Mae Sod or I had working phones. No buses run that late. We decided to bite the bullet and take a taxi. With great trepidation, we got into the one hailed for us. Our last driver made us fear for our lives. This one…was absolutely a gem!

He spoke very little English but cheerfully did his best to maintain a conversation. “Thailand very hot! You try food? Is spicy?” 

We originally planned to drop her off first and then have me either stay the night or hail another taxi. However, we liked our driver so much we asked if he would be willing to take a “second” trip. He did not know my address, but thankfully I could direct him from that point. He was definitely an answer to our desperate prayers! 

Scenes of Mae Sot

I cannot express how beautiful our trip up into the mountains was. Here are just a few of my favorites pictures: 

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