The Eel Souffle

For once, the skin covering my entire body is clammy, my muscles shorter, veins more constricted.  Winter having passed, for once Ayutthaya is cold, and trust me when I use that adjective, as I know it well (I’m from Los Angeles).  Today was a day spent dreaming, which is a luxury constantly afforded to someone living on an unfamiliar continent – for better or for naught – and the weather is in perfect alignment with my Bangkok Sunday Reverie.  How so?  Here’s how, poopface:
A few weeks ago, I bought my ticket to Australia; you heard it, perchance, on the news, where the untrained ear might have interpreted such reverberations of glee as a “tremendous earthquake in Indonesia.”  That was none but the thud of my heart, which for once was pumping a particular blood magenta in color, sugar-sweet.  My body was in NASCAR mode, and I’ve spent the succeeding weeks doing my very best to keep my head in Thailand, where it belongs and where it might be happiest.  After all, a funny thing happened on the way to The Quorum: I became enamored with my life.
Teaching has become angelic to the extent where I no longer wake up with dread-head.  It’s Sunday night, and I might say that I am looking forward to class tomorrow.  I might remind you, reader, with whom we’re dealing: this is the pessimistic troll that would pray for rain on game days, that found himself with a nervous, diarrheic stomach before so many days of internships and first days of school.  This is a guy that simply can’t imagine a life of waking and reposing at a regular hour every day, who has hardly a node of direction or volition in his hyperactive brain folds, who spent the first two months of living in Ayutthaya with a lime face and a boiled vinegar tongue.  Might I say that I love my students (maybe), or that I would want to enlist myself in another semester here at Senaprasit?  Gadzooks, no.  I would, however, say that I find Thailand to be remarkably charming (I can’t imagine anyone using that word to describe this country), and holy mole do I think the world of the academically middling little monsters I teach.
I have one student (or, rather, I have 1,250, but one of this discussion) whose face looks like Ayer’s Rock dipped in a sort of chicken that was flavored with the ink from old ‘40s noir gangster film reels, whose body, were it a font, would be ‘Goudy Stout, size 148’ (just trust me on this one).  Anyway, this boy is such a sweetheart, the definitive Gentle Giant of Siam, his face eternally chiseled into an earnest if insecure smile, tongue sometimes poking out unconsciously like that of a puppy, particularly if I call on him and he doesn’t know the answer (he rarely does).  On the days where God has dragged His sun from the dark depths of the horizon, where you can smell honey in the air, when the world’s next John Lennons and Kennedys are born and the loneliest Egans have found their One True Love – that is, the days for which I am so grateful, when the stars are in harmony with the moon – this epically present young man might answer a question correctly, or volunteer a good vocabulary word, or find the courage to amplify his lispy voice to classroom levels of great courage, I find myself looking at an art gallery in a blender.  All of the world’s beauty, the work of those beleaguered artists from Ancient Greece, from Renaissance Tuscany, from The Hague, from wherever and whenever an artist tried his or her best to translate joy onto a canvas: it’s all calculated casually when his face erupts into that gelatinous grand canyon of a smile.  Even if I’ve lobbed him a changeup of a question to hit out of the park, and understanding that his level of English is beyond repair, it is enough for me to love my job and, hopefully, enough for him to keep showing up to class.  After all, for the fourty-odd students in every class that can’t show their indifference more expressively – one girl last week, after being called on to stand up before class, pulled out her compact mirror and started to redirect her hair, this being not an attempt to goad or humiliate me, but rather a function that was, to her, unconditionally more important than even acknowledging that I was asking her a question (I could only laugh until she was ready to put it away: the absurdity of it all!) – while this Asian John Candy won’t give me anything but the most unbridled attention during class.  Considering that his friends are all the bullies and rebels of the school, I find his case an inexhaustible thoughtpiece.  There was also the interaction two weeks ago between this Planet Boy and one of my worst troublemakers: imagine a character like James Dean’s Jim Stark (without the angst or good looks, not that I’m commenting on my students’ physical features oh my God I think I am I should stop writing and leave Thailand immediately) one that plays himself off as being above most things: imagine this character being swallowed whole by the straddling legs of Fat Albert.  I promise you that this is true: the tough kid, aged about 17, was sitting in the cavernous lap of the above-described student, leaning back on his friend’s Buddha Belly.  I chalked that up to the relaxed nature of intimacy-among-friends that is found in Thailand (male friends can often been spotting walking around, holding hands in a simple expression of friendship).  Then I turn to find that Siamese Stay Puft Man has threaded a pink barrette into Thai Jim Stark’s scruffy hair, and that they were both playing with it, commenting quietly on it with considerable seriousness.  How do you deal with this, how do you interpret it, how do you react – and in a classroom, no less?  Teaching here is a steady stream of comedic gold.
I have half of my classes cancelled, and I say that I have probably taught far less than ten full, Monday-Friday weeks since my arrival, with all of the holidays, natural disasters, and, of course, the approach that my school’s administrators have to my class and the importance it has.  I’m here to be white, if I haven’t mentioned this yet.  Also, since I played guitar in the pageant and won the Watermelon Relay, I have been treated like a king, I think: the co-director of the school, who is often treated like a king himself (though not like the director, who is more like an emperor) took me out to an early dinner last Monday with other directors of school throughout Ayutthaya, at which junction I was treated to deliciously spicy Northeastern foods (including a refreshing, tender, colorful dish that I can only presume to be pork stomach/innard salad) accompanied by a thousand baht bottle of Hennesy Cognac and a long and meandering conversation about genitalia sizes (or so he told me in post-translation after I was sitting there in intellectual darkness lasting 20 minutes or so: “we are saying that we…how do you say…have bigger “cocks” than him?  His is small.”)  I should also mention that I teach Monday and Tuesday, and after that I will have two weeks of review, than about three weeks (2.5, I guess) administering an oral final with all of ten points (that’s all my class is worth, and even that is just ten percent of their overall English grade).  My contract being through 27 February, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that I will actually finish on the 20th, which was good news: I responded by booking a week at Wat Doi Su Thep, the second-tallest point in Thailand, where, after the 306-stair climb to the top, I will partake in the ever-popular meditation retreat.  This is a seed planted in my brain by Cait, who taught here a semester ago, one actually sowed this weekend by Kelly.  I am competitive and simply just to see her two-day retreat and raise it five: it has nothing to do with my desire to better myself, just Kelly.  In fact, it should be amazing and I can’t wait for it.  I’m a person unable to sit still, to stop thinking about tomorrow or about anything, who can’t simply sit (most of us are like this, I think), but from 27 February – 5 March, I’ll have no choice.  We wake at 4AM, eat some breakfast a few hours later, have our last meal for the day at noon, meditate (in an ideal world, or so they purport) some twenty hours per day, and are to refrain from all vices, including conversation, reading, writing, and swatting mosquitoes.  I am just saying that it will be interesting.  What’s also beautiful is that they do not demand monetary payment for your week of accommodation, provision, and lecture.  It should be a significant experience, hopefully one that I remember for a long time.  I don’t necessarily want to do it – I mean, it’s not going to be “fun”, or that is to say I could be going to Vietnam or Laos instead – but there are certain aspects of my lifestyle that I’d like to work on, among them my ability to exist without qualifying, representing, or defining myself to/for others (not being able to speak, wearing only white robes for the duration, etc), a difficult time making lifestyle changes, as well as my generational inability to stop analyzing everything – all of this should be benefited, at least for that week.  Or I’ll go insane.  This part is obnoxious.
After the retreat, I’ll be spending my birthday, probably alone in Chiang Mai (above which the temple is located) on the 6th of March.  I’ll be 24, which is my number, so I consider this to be the most important year of my life to date in a purely superstitious sense, and if it might be tough to be alone, it will also be the most outstanding birthday I’ve ever had.  Anyway, I’ve had plenty of moments of celebration out here, so if it’s low-key, that’s not a big deal at all.  After that, I might want to head over to Vietnam for a short week, and then spend two hurried weeks in Singapore, Malaysia, and, as the big prize, Indonesia.  I’ll have to return to Bangkok, and then train it down to Kuala Lumpur by the 31st, as my flight to Melbourne departs thence.  This will probably all change, apart from Australia.  Australia!
Alright, I wasted some salary in Bangkok this weekend, buying three DVDs: Otto e Mezzo, Le Mepris, and Jabberwocky.  I’m going to finish my lesson plan, then watch one of those.  Until then, I bid you la dee sawat.

French wine and ukuleles,
Eric

P.S. I didn’t eat an eel soufflé: that’s just the title

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~ by nearhelsinki on January 13, 2009.

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