Birthday Meanderings & Annual Wrap-Up

Hmm.  Eight months since my last entry on this blog.  I haven’t been lazy in those eight months.  In fact, I have been busier this year than any in recent memory.  At least I have had more happen to me.  And so, on the occasion of my 54th birthday, it is time to bring those who visit here an update.  I usually become quite nostalgic around this time of the year anyway…

The year of 2019 followed the same basic routine as most of the last three or four years that I have held the position of Deputy Head Teacher for the Phuket branch of Thailand’s largest agency of English teachers.  My routine remained largely the same as differences abounded all around me.  Chief amongst these was the retirement of our Head Teacher (NO! I have never aspired to do THAT job — mine is far more interesting, stress-free and rewarding) who remained fairly sane through his nearly seven years in the position. That change came early in the year.

Second was the “big move” from our (hidden) location in the basement of the shopping mall to the main (highly visible) floor which involved manually carrying EVERYTHING up three meandering levels while attempting to remain out of sight of regular shoppers.  That resulted in quite a bit of back pain.  Around the same time, I began experiencing severe pain in my stomach as well.  I tried my best to ignore them, attributing that to the same “big move”; I thought I’d hit myself in the stomach with a heavy box.  The move itself had been over the course of two very long days and nights as I had my annual bank staff course beginning on our first day in the new location.  Because of the work involved with teaching the course, I could not take any time off to deal with the pain I was in.  I soldiered on as I always do.

Eventually, however, the pain overcame me.  I succumbed and made my way to the hospital on a rare day off.  I had some humongous gall stones and gall-bladder removal surgery was highly recommended.  Even then, I resisted for as long as I could.  I suffered for nearly a month before I finally went under the knife on my day off and then took one more day off after that before returning to work.  Big mistake.  I also had a two-day English camp towards the end of that week.  Some of the Thai teachers who had worked on previous camps with me remarked that I wasn’t my usual energetic self (one actually complained!).  Still, they asked us to do another two-day camp the following week(!) for another group of students.  Oh, my.  Nearly killed myself in preparations and activities (I TRIED to be more “energetic” the second camp).  I really should have taken the time off but I didn’t want to disappoint the branch manager due to my intense respect for him (I didn’t tell him about my surgery; only two people in the office knew).  I had witnessed his concern when one of our teachers had died a couple of months before that; I didn’t want him to worry about me.


Then, he himself dropped a bombshell.  Our branch manager is leaving soon to move to Canada.  His wife has been there (with both of their teen aged children) for some time for medical care.  He took over the Phuket operations just over seven years ago and I have come to regard him as the best boss that I have ever had for a vast number of reasons.  I probably stayed with the company during the rough times (when I still let petty things bother me) as much out of a sense of commitment to him as for my own stubbornness (I never give up, even when things seem absolutely overwhelming or hopeless).  Our new branch manager has already arrived so the old one can show her the ropes.  One doesn’t see too many women in such positions in this country so I wish her the best.  It is not an easy job so we will all need to give her as much support as possible.

Other than these big changes, the actual work remained my usual (interesting) routine:  a mixture of regular classes and English Camps; I no longer need much of a lead-time to prepare for the latter as I have stockpiles of games and materials from years of doing this. The majority of my classes are professional-level (businesses and government agencies) or test-prep courses. I am certified to teach IELTS, TOEIC and TOEFL.  I also have a long-running course with a young bundle of joy; we’ve done nearly 100 hours together — she is six years old now — and her dad just paid for another 100 hours and a pair of ten-year-olds on the weekends.

I also do fill-ins (substitute teaching) if I am available when the need arises.  This could mean an hour or a full day or a couple of weeks in any one of a number of local schools.  The grade levels could be just Kindergarten, Primary or Secondary.  Or a mix of all in one day.  Although I prefer to sub in EP (especially the IEP’s — Intensive English Programme) as the class sizes are smaller, the children generally better behaved, and the classrooms often air-conditioned, I am usually called upon to teach in GP (General Programme).

These  classes tend to be large and unruly with a complete lack of support (books?  Ha!  You’re lucky if they even have a notebook — even halfway through the year….).  Last month, I spent two weeks in the GP of a huge local school teaching in the M2 level (students average 15 years old although I had several who were 18!).  Most of the classes had more than 40 students each.  No a/c, of course.  No course outlines.  No books. No Thai teachers to be found. No respect.  I do not know what their regular teacher had been teaching them (and here it is Term 2 already) as they couldn’t understand even the most rudimentary of basics (“What’s your name?” “How are you?”).

I’m asked to teach those types of classes because I am calm in the classroom. I didn’t use to be so comfortable in such situations.  My first couple of years in the government-operated schools, I had a constant sore throat from yelling so much.  I finally realized that adding more noise to the din does not solve the problem.  I find other ways to deal with rowdiness. If they want to be a bunch of hooligans, I find a way to gain their attention without demanding it.  They start to listen because they want to, not simply because I am a teacher (well, they do not care unless you are a Thai teacher carrying a stick to cane them with if they misbehave and even then…). I enlist the assistance of the worst of the trouble-makers in such a way that they end up enjoying the lesson. The others soon come on board as well.  I now take pride in my classroom management abilities and I often find fill-ins as ways to hone my skills. It was not easy to reach this point.  Nowadays, lo and behold, some of the “worst” kids actually thank me at the end of the lessons.  I think they see that a teacher can actually care whether or not they learn something useful.  Yes, I enjoy the chaotic classes as much as the studious classes.

My life isn’t entirely about education.  Although, in a very real sense, it is.  I have an intense love of history and of stamp collecting.  I combine the two pastimes and I love sharing that knowledge.  For nearly three years, I maintained my A Stamp A Day blog without missing a single day.  I spent several hours each day for a thousand and one days in a row researching and compiling some VERY lengthy articles about the subjects portrayed upon stamps chosen from my personal collection.  I finally took a break which I believe will be permanent.  Although I still occasionally put together an entry for that blog, it will never return to its daily publishing schedule.

Around the same time last Spring, I put my other blogs on temporary hold as well.  Lack of inspiration was certainly a factor but the summer months often see me very busy at work as I prepare for the annual bank staff courses (these involve a huge amount of paperwork as well as pre-course placement tests and personal interviews).  Once we discovered we would be forced to move our offices, I carefully packed away eight years worth of materials I had created and gathered in my own classroom/office and assisted the support staff in packing everything else up (including a notoriously cluttered storage room).  All of this came just before the banking course was due to start and we also had two or three English camps I was preparing for as well.  Everything outside of work went on hold.

I was looking forward to the end of the bank classes in mid-October as this usually signals a lightness in my schedule.  I began thinking about ways to revive my other stamp blog (Philatelic Pursuits) as well as Asian Meanderings.  AM has its roots in a blog dating back to my days living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, more than 15 years ago (and that grew out of a website I began in 1999 — yes, I have produced online content for TWENTY YEARS now!). This blog has always been a hodge-podge of randomness hence it’s current moniker. I have always struggled to blog the myriad of interests that consume me.  I fear that trend will continue.  Expect the unexpected here. Or more months of silence.  Who knows?

As for Philatelic Pursuits, I had some inspiration not long before Halloween and it has snowballed from there.  In early 1999, I started (trying) to keep track of new stamp releases scheduled for that year.  I decided to make month-by-month pages for the blog to serve as a calendar of sorts, complete with images (making the pages VERY slow to load).  I gave up by March or April.

I have decided to attempt the same thing in 2020.  This time, however, I put a lot of thought into how best to present the information.  I came up with the idea of creating separate pages for each stamp-issuing entity (whether that be a country, a territory, or an organization such as the United Nations).  Each would have minimal graphics (a flag, a postal service logo, and a coat-of-arms or other emblem) along with a list of stamps scheduled to be released.  Some entities publicize the entire year’s schedule at at once, complete with dates, while others make announcements one at a time.  As I receive images (at this point, they are all pre-release designs), I create an article using the same graphics as the entity pages adding the photos of the stamps and any additional information I can find such as designer, printing method, background, etc.  I then create a link on the entity page to the article so they are easy to find. I plan to update these articles throughout the year as I receive better-quality scans of the actual stamps and any additional information. Collectors won’t have to wade through a bunch of countries’ stamps they aren’t interested in and everything loads much more quickly.

All of my blog entries automatically post to my Twitter feed as well as my Facebook page (for A Stamp A Day, rather than my personal page).  I have also created a Google Calendar dedicated to release dates of new stamps:

The calendar appears in the sidebar of the Philatelic Pursuits blog so one can always see what releases are coming up next.  Finally, a few days ago I created a Facebook group called The Stamps of 2020 which I hope will be a place to share images and discuss all of these new stamps. By the end of the first day that I set up the page, I had five members.  Three days later, there are 45. It’s already helped me out considerably as members have provided details of certain upcoming stamps. Please consider joining.  Next year, I will change the name of the group to focus on the issues of 2021 (and pick up any stragglers from the previous year).

I think the majority of my philatelic activities for 2020 will be tracking down these New Issue stamps.  I probably won’t actually purchase very many of them (I’m collecting the images instead!) but I definitely plan to try and buy all those released by Iceland as this is quite probably their final year issuing stamps, citing recent huge revenue losses.  They happen to design particularly beautiful stamps (as do similar places such as Greenland, Faroe Islands, etc.) and there are very few issues per year.  I have recently put in my pre-order for a stamp and set of pre-paid postcards to be released by North Korea on January 1, making these my first 2020 philatelic purchase.

I will also continue purchasing every stamp released by Thailand throughout the year.  Amazingly, 2019 is the first year that I have lived here that I have managed to buy each one as they came out (well, there is one left — scheduled for tomorrow).  I even got a hold of the very limited souvenir sheet marking last month’s visit to Thailand by Pope Francis, although I had to do so through eBay.  This might also be the year that I buy a few extra sheets and first day covers for re-sell.  I have long been disgusted with the prices on eBay for many of these just-released items and feel I can offer them closer to face value than most of the other sellers.  I might not even use eBay at all,

For the more immediate future, I want to make this my most Christmasy year yet.  I have long been “the” Santa Claus for my agency.  Last year, I think we traveled to seven schools (mostly kindergartens) around Phuket Town spreading holiday joy to the little tykes.  It is hot and sweaty work in the costume and the beard especially appears rather fake.  This year, I ordered a full wig and quite an extensive beard from a shop in Hong Kong.  It arrived this week but is quite tangled.  I need to take a comb or brush to it at the earliest opportunity.  In its current state, I look like one of the drunk Santas that have vomit down the front of their beard.  Next step is to find some red sweat pants as the Santa trousers my company bought last year split in the crotch the first time I sat down in one of the tiny kindergarten chairs.  I managed to buy four boxes of candy canes from the local supermarket before they sold out.  I will give those out to prize-winners.  I may also buy a small tree to set up in my classroom (I am surprised our staff hasn’t yet decorated the lobby).

For several years now, I have celebrated Christmas through my blogs, mostly of Christmas stamps. Last year, I had a “Month of Christmas Stamps” on A Stamp A Day (so, 31 articles) and wrote about six of my holiday postcards (four of them vintage) on Postcards to Phuket. I particularly like those that show depictions of the holiday without the usual Santas, reindeers, Marys, wise men, candy canes, etc. As far as I am concerned, Brazil is this year’s clear winner for a “non-traditional” Christmas stamp as it mixes local flavor with subtle elements such as a shooting star and holiday tree.

I was cheered by holiday decorations appearing this week both at the mall where our offices are located and a small shopping center near my home.  Since tomorrow is a holiday, I plan to wander around some areas on the island taking pictures of anything I see that is overtly Christmasy. I still get a kick at how much this predominately Buddhist country embraces a Christian holiday and want to share that spirit with others.  Look for a few photo blogs on Asian Meanderings in the near future….

And I suppose that is about it for my annual birthday ramblings.  I may be another year older but I am as busy as ever. I may meander more than I ever have before.  Cheers!

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