A Year In The Life: 2014

SAM_1660The beginning of a New Year brings the traditional “year in review” post on blogs all over the world.  Thus far, I’ve managed to avoid such an annual wrap-up as I’m not certain it serves much of a purpose.  Now that I’m blogging much more, and am on the verge of several major changes in my life, I feel that I should finally make an attempt to look back on the year past before moving forward. 

ASEAN-member-countriesThe year just begun – 2015 – promises to be a significant one for many reasons.  Not only does it mark the tenth year anniversary of my arrival in Thailand but also the fiftieth anniversary of my birth.  In Southeast Asia, there has been a battle cry of sorts – “Are you ready for 2015?” — for several years now as the Asian Economic Community comes into full affect with English as its official language.  Am I ready, indeed…

English Camp Thailand 2014I have made great strides in my career over the past twelve months.  This was the year in which I progressed from “just” an ESL teacher to a more specialized version of that.  I began 2014 by writing an instructional manual under contract to a prospective TEFL certificate course.  Upon completion of that task, I was offered a position as the head teacher of the “academy” that was to use the manual and even taught a few conversation classes for them while awaiting the first teachers-in-training.  However, as so often happens with such start-ups in this part of the world, the administrative staff disappeared into the night.

As I take most of the bumps in my life these days, I merely shrugged, muttered the oft-heard mantra “TIT” (“This is Thailand”) and continued working for my principal employer, one of Thailand’s largest teachers’ agencies and chain of language schools.  My students there shifted from primarily lower- and upper-primary children into more and more adults including the first of a series of business courses that continue to this day.  By year’s end, I’d even branched out even further teaching specialized subjects such as writing legal contracts and test preparation courses for both IELTS and IGCSE.  I’ve even become a bit of an expert at organizing multi-day English camps, usually held at off-island resorts.

The learning curve involved in preparing for these more specialized forms of teaching took up most of my limited amount of free time.  This was reflected most obviously in the six months I spent away from blogging on Asian Meanderings.  That, and a serious case of writer’s block.  As anybody who looks at this blog’s archives will see that I’m no longer suffering a lack of writing ideas!

SAM_3863Something else lacking in 2014 was travel.  I didn’t go anywhere save for a couple of English camps held in Phang Nga – the province just to the north of Phuket.  I also failed to attend the annual Por Tor and Phuket Vegetarian festivals for the first time since relocating to Phuket in 2006.  It was difficult to avoid the latter as I live on the very edge of Phuket’s Old Town area which is basically ground-zero for the festivities.  I did get stuck in traffic during one of the street processions and shot a few photos from the windows of my bus but I didn’t actively participate in any of the events.  I did, however, provide plenty of tips for several new residents and they had a great time.  I hope to get back into the festival spirit in time for Chinese New Year the week following Valentine’s Day.

keep-calm-and-read-onMy personal reading time also took a big hit in 2014 after a very promising start during the first three months of the year.  In January, February and March I averaged 3400 pages each month, finishing 15 books during the first month alone.  The second half of the year saw a monthly average of just under 1500 pages and I finished only two books during each of the last four months (and only one in August!).  Part of the reason is that many of the books I started reading were much longer than in previous years and I’m also reading much more heavy non-fiction than fiction at the present.  I also tend to save my reading for very late in the evenings when my eyes (and brain) are fairly tired.  Somehow, I still managed to maintain my reading streak – haven’t missed a day since 17 July 2010 – although there were a few days in December when I quite literally only managed one page read.  I did make up for that on 30 December by reading more than 400 pages of a James Rollins thriller in one day.

The final reading statistics for 2014 were a total of sixty-one books finished (far below the 77 I managed in 2013 and 2010’s whopping 119!).  The total pages read – 25,938 – is the most I’ve ever done in a year but that number isn’t very exact as different eBook readers number their pages differently and size of print on the rare tree-books I still read is another factor.  Since I began keeping detailed records in January 2010, I’ve finished a grand total of 408 books.

Oh, and here are my walking statistics for December – 167,673 steps, or 39.68 miles.  A bit less than November…

Scan_20141217Towards the end of the year, I once again was subjected to Thai bureaucratic hoops to jump through.  I’ve had the proper long-term visas and work permits throughout most of my nine years as a full-time resident of Thailand.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t need to keep my ears and eyes open for changes in the immigration laws.  Crack-downs usually come whenever there are changes of leadership (which happen often in the Kingdom) and those that occurred in the aftermath of this year’s military coup were a bit stiffer than usual.  I actually welcome crackdowns as I hate hearing coworkers brag that they don’t have the proper credentials or work permits.  In the amount they are spending in making endless visa runs, they could easily afford to go through the process for a real visa.  I really don’t mind when those who bypass the legal methods get stopped at borders.  My boss may not agree as he has to hustle and fill vacancies when Thailand doesn’t allow these visa-runners to re-enter the nation but then he shouldn’t employ teachers who are ineligible for a work permit in the first place.

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At any rate, a few changes were made that affected my annual renewal process.  This was the address verification which is a step in the right direction.  It involved a few extra jumps but now I’m firmly in the computer system which means it should be a bit easier next year.  Unless the government changes again, of course.  At the same time this was going on, Phuket Immigration Office reorganized their facilities to make themselves a bit more efficient.  Another step in the right direction.

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This year, I had to pay an extra thousand baht to renew my work permit because somebody noticed that my employer’s address was wrong.  I wonder how long until the Labour Department notices that my birthdate and year don’t match what it says on my passport.  More importantly, how much will the adjustment cost?  When I bring the error to my school’s attention each year, the staffer always whispers that I should keep quiet about it…

On the personal relationship front, I remain single.  That status did change briefly during the middle part of the year when I dated a bit but work demands took a toll on that as well.  It is also very difficult to find a down-to-earth woman in this country who doesn’t view all foreigners as simply walking ATM’s whose only purpose is to supply her, her family, and non-relatives from her village with endless amounts of cash at a moment’s notice.  No, I’m not jaded…

SAM_2321I only managed to attend two live music events in 2014 – a huge decrease for this old rocker.  Both were to see my favorite Thai band – Carabao – and while the first was planned in advance, the second was a big surprise.  Back in mid-April I walked down to Suphan Hin – a sports and recreation area in the southern part of Phuket Town – in order to see the group perform at the second of TWO Phuket Bike Weeks held this year.  The first had been held, as usual, centered in Patong a week before and I couldn’t make it due to work commitments.  For the first time ever, the organizers held a miniature version in the streets of Phuket Town which I, for one, welcomed as I quite dislike the town of Patong.  Shortly before the concert began, I ran into one of my co-workers from England.  There were quite a few farang (Western foreigners) at this show due to the Harley Davidson and Triumph aspect which made for a different atmosphere.

On New Year’s Eve, I had to force myself out of my apartment.  I always feel I have to do SOMETHING to celebrate the holiday but always seem to be alone at this time of the year.  My usual fall-back is to walk to Sanam Chai – a field across from Provincial Hall which is about a five-minute walk from my home.  The local municipality always puts on a three-night “Colourful Countdown” for the first of three New Year’s celebrated annually in Thailand.  They usually have entertainment by a plethora of local acts (which, in recent years, have tended more towards hip-hop or hardcore metal than the traditional Thai country music or what is called “Songs for Life” – similar lyrical topics as, say, Bruce Springsteen sings about America).  The last time they had a musical act that I enjoyed was when Boolorng Saorn performed three or four years ago.

SAM_4859I forced myself to attend this year due to hunger.  Ringing the field are numerous local food vendors which, aside from the “installations” are probably the most popular part of the event.  By “installations”, I mean the large sign letters and other displays scattered around at any Thai festival whose sole purpose are to act as “selfie” backdrops.  As I walked towards Sanam Chai this New Year’s Eve, I suddenly heard one of my favorite Carabao songs coming through the still somewhat distant speakers; “Mon Pleng Carabao” lately has been their regular opening song so I quickened my pace.  I entered the grounds just as they kicked off their second tune – I can never remember the name but it’s the one that starts off sounding like an entire orchestra playing.  I maneuvered myself towards the front for a really good view.  I opted to shoot more video than usual, but found out later that the microphones on my camera no longer work well.  The twenty seconds of video I shot on my cheapo mobile phone sound much better; I’ll try to remember that for next time!

At the same time that my travels, reading, festival-going, and photography have declined my activities in collecting postcards and stamps have increased exponentially.  In fact, the focus of my two current blogs (“Please, Mr. Postman!” was debuted at the beginning of December) has been almost entirely about these two hobbies.  Look for more of that in 2015.

Something else to look for in 2015 is the return of my travel reports.  Of course, for those to happen I need to get out of Phuket.  I’m already planning on at least one stamp supply-buying excursion to Bangkok and I would like to make at least one foreign destination this year.  I’m also considering making a few regional overnight trips as well by just hopping on a bus without any pre-planning whenever I have two or three days off in a row (a rarity but something I can manage if I try).

SAM_4896Lastly, I aim to take more photographs in the New Year.  I realized when I was preparing this article that I went several months without taking a single photo at all!  I think I simply got bored with taking pictures of the same things over and over again.  I do need to improve my photography skills and try for new twists on old themes.  In order to force myself to do this, I’m starting a new series for the blog called “Photo Friday” on which I will select a few photos each week to highlight.  In order to have content for this, I will need to get outside and take some pictures!  Look for the first installment tomorrow…

All in all, 2014 was a very satisfying year free from stress and worries.  Even when there are bumps in life, nothing bothers me anymore.  I’ve seen a lot in a decade of Asian living – from staying at the ground-zero hotel of a global pandemic to patrolling the aftermath of a tsunami to an airliner exploding a little too close for comfort to two military coups (and another which was just sort-of a coup) to becoming a father and a grandfather all too briefly and having a marriage end in outright theft.  All of this has made me a stronger person, one that can handle anything and everything that life throws at me.

So, bring it on 2015.  I’m ready for you!

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