I can’t believe it’s been well over a month since I arrived in Ranong. And yet, I know it has because I had to do a visa run across to Burma last Monday to avoid overstaying on my 30 day tourist visa….
Why on earth am I here on a tourist visa, you ask? Good question indeed. If the Thai embassy had been a little more timely in issuing our working-holiday visas I wouldn’t be, but there you have it. When we realised the visas were going to take longer than we had expected, I came ahead to Ranong wearing my “Irish citizen” cap, while the visa in my NZ passport was finalised. It’s winging it’s way to me as I write, hopefully meaning I’ll only have to do one more visa run to activate it. Andrew, meanwhile, is still stuck in Sydney… waiting… waiting… waiting… for the embassy to let him know whether his visa has been approved or not. He’s had to delay his flights four times already, so we really hope it comes through soon!
But such is life. I’ve had a month now to rediscover the joys (markets! cheap, yummy food! MMR community!) and frustrations (lack of running water. strangers yelling ‘hey you’ at the white farang. the difficulties of simple daily communications) of Ranong, not to mention the new quirks it never ceases to throw up.
My favourite is the sudden boom in swiftlet nesting houses, which I never saw last time we were here. These multi-storied concrete structures (much like this one) are designed to attract swiftlets to come and nest in them, so that their nests can be harvested for bird’s nest soup – a lucrative business, I’m told. In order to attract new birds, birdsong is blasted out of loudspeakers around the building…24 hours a day…. I’m not sure why this is necessary – surely sensible swifts looking for a place to nest would realise than no self-respecting, neighbourly bird would be singing at 2am? Apparently not. There is one of these nesting houses outside our bedroom balcony, and another under construction opposite the front door, so looks like we’re going to be permanently surrounded by birdsong!
I have to say, it somewhat drowns out the much worse music that the neighbours like to blast out all day, so I’m not complaining. It’s just pretty strange to go to sleep to the sound of morning bird chatter. The current construction site itself also provides an almost constant source of diversion, not to mention occasional anxiety for the lives of the Mon workers…
I’ve been pretty busy since I arrived with the online diploma course that we’re tutoring, as well as updating the revamped MMR website , working on writing the MMR annual report and various other little odds and ends. The diploma course is really exciting, because it’s the first chance Burmese migrants in Ranong have had to pursue any form of higher education, and the fact that we’re able to open up to them an internationally recognised programme is fantastic. There are more details about how it works here, for those who are interested. The programme started a couple of days after I arrived, with an intensive face-to-face unit taught by a visiting lecturer from Australia, and the students completed their final assignments for that unit last week. This first unit was all about academic English, essay writing skills, and an introduction to the sort of critical thinking and analysis skills that are expected of students at a western tertiary institution. It’s hard work when English is your third or fourth language, you’ve barely used the internet before, and, crucially, your whole experience of education has been based on the premise that you accept, memorise and regurgitate whatever the teacher/textbook says and don’t question anything – it’s not just a question of language barriers, basically all of the students’ assumptions and experiences of education to date have to be re-examined to see how they fit with these new expectations, and they have to get their heads around an entirely new way of thinking. But our students are so determined I know they’ll all make it. One unit down, only seven to go til graduation!
As of a couple of hours ago, Andrew’s visa has finally been approved, yay! So we hope he’ll be in Ranong in about a week’s time.