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Just keep swimming

I'm standing in front of a room full of wide-eyed 14 year old students ready for their first lesson of the day. I wonder if they can tell that I am one "are you ok?" away from bursting out into tears. I don't know what I'm doing here, I have nothing planned, I feel like I am in the stereotypical nightmare standing naked in front of a crowd. I take a deep breathe and attempt to push my  chaotic feelings aside and get back to them at a more appropriate time. I want to make a run for the door, but I don't. "Okay class, today I want you to write 3 sentences about what makes you happy and then read them aloud to your neighbor." My voice quivers on the word happy as the irony of this assignment unleashes the flood of unhappy emotions that are bursting to reenter my mind. The kids stare at me with blank eyes. You understand right??? Wrong. I have to give an example. Fuck. What makes me happy? I can hardly remember at this point. "My cat Duchess makes me happy." I manage to crank out a generic sentence and plop behind my desk as they begin to work. I miss my cat. 

Less than 24 hours ago my heart was hit like a car going 90 headfirst into a brick wall, and I haven't even had a second to process the emotional tornado ripping its way through my head. Less than 24 hours before that I could have written a novel on what makes me happy; the way he brushes the hair from my face, the way he adores my bold mind and take charge attitude, the way he makes me feel like we could have a shot at forever. These sentiments didn't seem so crazy to me 4 days ago as they do now I write them. Being the hopeless romantic that I am, finding the love of your life while traveling the world didn't seem like such a wild and impossible dream. But unfortunately, the world isn't a kind place for those who view it through rose tinted glasses. Especially when the dreamy glow wears off and reality bitch slaps you across the face. 

How do you go from feeling like you are falling in love lust to feeling like you are falling off a skyscraper with no parachute in just 4 days? Let me rewind a bit and attempt to fill in the missing pieces. It's around my second week in Thailand, a few teachers and myself decide to explore some of the surrounding towns in my area. We settled on Kachanburi and I quickly took to the internet to find a cute little hostel to book for our stay. Upon arrival we see a few people hanging around the outside grounds, including a cute couple cozy in a hammock on the porch. I notice them, but it is a fellow teacher of mine who strikes up a conversation with them. We exchange some words, have a conversation with them and I don't think much more of it. A few days later I receive a message from the guy asking me about advice on how to become an English teacher here. I am a little excited because I found him pretty attractive and wanted to get to know him but I didn't bother because he was clearly taken as it seemed to me. Long story short, he was not. He informed me he was just traveling with the girl for a bit and that nothing serious was going on between them, she was just a friend who he got along with. I chose to believe this to be true. I put his resume forward to my school and deep down exciting feelings were brewing. We continued to chat for the next few weeks and our similarities and chemistry became apparent. We spoke of our interests, our future hopes and dreams of family and settling in another country, and our shared sense of humor was palpable. His visa was soon expiring and he had to make a quick trip out of country and when he came back we decided he could stay with me for awhile until his next trip...and who knows. We finally decided on taking the trip together, picked a place, and the plan was set. We were all a go for a 4 day trip in Laos. I was full to the brim with excitement and nerves and hopeful for what could be. I was also a bit hesitant about his so called casual situation with this girl and if it could be a potential obstacle. I voiced my concerns and once again he assured me that it was nothing to worry about. I took a leap of faith and just went with it. No expectations but a heart full of hope.

The next couple of days were magical. Our connection was better than I imagined, it was like I was meeting a little piece of myself. It almost seemed too good to be true. Foreshadowing for the near future I suppose. It soon came out that the girl he was traveling with for a month before me had headed back to London to have an abortion. He had met her traveling in Vietnam and within a couple of weeks she found out she was pregnant but decided to keep traveling with him and head back at the end of the month to "take care of it." He stuck with her even though the baby was not his (he claimed so at least) and spoke of their arguments and up and down relationship and her emotional turbulence and complicated past. He assured me that he had not been in love with her and that again it was nothing to worry about. Again, I chose to give him the benefit of the doubt and see how things progressed. Why would he want to be with someone like that? I thought he must be telling the truth. He seemed to be honest and I had no reason to think otherwise at the time (wishful thinking). Our connection continued to grow, our chemistry was intense. I opened up and spoke of my past hurts and my growth over the years and of my hopes and dreams for the future. He seemed to be on the same page as me. He spoke of similar hopes and dreams, and shared some personal details of his life with me as well. We slept together that night and even though it was moving fast, everything just felt right. I was comfortable and I felt as if I had known him for years. Our good times continued and a possible future together didn't seem so crazy. I was willing to give it a shot. From his words and actions, it seemed as if he could feel the same way as I did. 

2 days of pure bliss. Then Saturday came. Nothing had happened, no fights, nothing notable, but he seemed a bit distant. I did not feel the same closeness that I had felt just a day before. Maybe he was tired, maybe he needed space. I asked if anything was wrong, of course he assured me nothing was. Later that night he asked for a bit of time alone to call his mom and catch up, I respected this, no problem. I occupied myself downstairs at the bar and mingled with a few other people staying at our hostel. An hour goes by, he doesn't come down. 2 hours....I start to feel a worried feeling in the pit of my stomach. All too familiar. "Are you alive?" I message him. He sees and doesn't reply. I decide to check in to make sure everything is alright...even though I know it clearly is not. The look on his face said it all. He abruptly ended his conversation on the phone and struggled for words to say. The pit of my stomach felt sick and my palms were already sweating. He missed her. Of course he did. They had traveled together for a month and I was naive enough to think that this girl who was apparently in love with him wasn't anything to worry about. I wanted to believe that. But deep down I knew the truth. I swallowed the lump in my throat and attempted to not be phased by the news. He suggested we watch a movie. I made it through the first two minutes before I had to excuse myself to go bawl my eyes out in the hallway. I told him I was going on a walk, I did not want to let him see me cry. I was so hurt, all my hopes were dashed. My hopeless romantic dream was no longer a possible reality. I had so many feelings whizzing through my mind, a belly full of whiskey, and a heavy heart. I let it out, sucked it up and vented to some very lovely travelers who were kind enough to console me and attempt to make me feel better. My favorite sentiment of the night: "fuck the cunt, you're too good for him." Never had words rung more true to me. I stayed out late and drank away my feelings, ate a sandwich and went back to the hostel and passed the eff out. Too much to process. 

The next morning we had to rise before the break of dawn for a hot air balloon ride we had planned and paid for the day before when things were still a dream. The weather was dark and the clouds were drizzling; the thrashing pain of hangover dulled the pain of my aching heart. I could not think of any place I'd less rather be than in a romantic hot air balloon with a guy who shat on my heart just a few hours before. The sight of him made me cringe. I was obviously more angry than I let myself realize. Thankfully the hot air balloon got cancelled due to weather and we made our way back to the airport. At this point it was clear that after we got back to Bangkok we would be going our separate ways. The van to the airport was cramped and we were both tired and worn out. I conceded and cuddled with him the whole 3 hour ride back. He held me close. Caressed my face. Rubbed my back in a way that could only feel like a loving touch. My heart ached, but I soaked in the last bit of comfort before it was no longer. He told me we should take things slow, we should take a few days to think about things and he needed to sort out his feelings for this girl. He also admitted to me that he was never seriously interested in teaching in Thailand, he just wanted to talk to me. I felt even more deceived. I felt I had been played. I felt lead on and emotionally manipulated. I told him I was not okay with that scenario, that it is all or nothing. He is in it or he isn't, I am no longer playing games. He could not give me a clear answer. I told him to just be with the other girl then, that I was out. He did not disagree. His reaction answered any doubts I may have had about us working out. It was clearly over. 

I don't know if it will be a few days, a few weeks, maybe months or possibly years until he sorts his shit out and realizes that he fucked up. One day he will realize that a good thing, a real thing, was standing right in front of him, and he chose to leave it. He said he wanted the real deal, but it was apparent by his actions that he was not ready for anything serious (despite him saying otherwise). I laid my heart on the table. I let him know how I was feeling, that I thought that just maybe we might have a shot at a future together, that maybe he was the one. He told me it made no sense for me to say such things after only knowing someone a few days. Ouch. That stung. Reality set crashed in. Maybe he was right, clearly I misjudged him. A million thoughts raced through my head. Maybe he really did miss that girl...maybe he just wasn't interested in anything serious....maybe he did have feelings for me but was scared of the possibility of real love....and maybe none of these possibilities even mattered.

Yes, I got hurt. But it wasn't a complete loss. I found out I am stronger than I ever imagined possible in the past. Six months ago I would have made excuses for him. More recently than that I would have blamed myself for things going south...for being too intense, for being too vulnerable and getting attached too quickly. I would have retraced all my steps to see where things went wrong and spend days wondering how I could have fixed it. I would have waited around for him to figure out his feelings and I would have continued to see him while he sorted out his completely fucked up situation. I would have helped him through it and in the end I probably would be beating myself up when it inevitably ended. But that girl is not me anymore. That girl grew up. Now I am a woman who knows herself, a woman who values herself and realizes her worth. I am a confident woman who knows exactly what she has to offer and will not lower her standards but keep them high and wait for the person who makes the effort to reach them. Instead of being ashamed of my feelings, instead of questioning if it is crazy to be falling for someone after only a few days, instead of blaming myself, I am so proud of myself. I am proud of myself for being strong enough to walk away. For being strong enough and wise enough to leave when I am not wanted. For being so sure of myself that I realize it is truly his loss, and not mine. This obviously was not the makings of love. Perhaps it had the potential to be, I had hoped so at least. But that's the thing about love, it takes two people. Two people who want to make it work and who put in the effort to let the initial chemistry and attraction grow into something real and worthwhile. It takes honesty. It takes vulnerability. I felt completely alone, and my emotions felt belittled. I knew that this wasn't real. It wasn't meant to be. That realization wasn't fun.

I'm not so crazy as to think that I was in love with him, that is impossible after such a short amount of time. I was rather in love with the idea of him. I have a habit of being in love with the idea of love, and when the person comes along to fit the mold I am quick to think it could be the real deal. But you don't fall in love with the idea of someone, you fall in love with the person. I now know that it is not him who I cried over. It is not him who hurt my heart. Yes, what he did to me was fucked up and wrong. But that's his karma. I jumped in with both feet and ignored all the red flags. My desire to see what I wanted to see in him outweighed the reality of the situation. My hope got the best of me and when that hope was lost it felt like a dream of mine had died along with it. 

Despite the adversity I have faced with men, I will not let my failures make my heart hard and cold. I choose to learn from my mistakes and to grow from them and with each heart ache I get a little bit stronger. On this journey of mine I will face many challenges and I welcome them all with open arms. They are only opportunities for me to grow. I am learning more and more about myself as time goes on. I always knew I was a strong person, but until this past year I never realized how truly strong I am and I love myself for it. I truly do. For once I can say that I love myself unconditionally and really truly mean it. I know who I am, flaws and all and I love the shit out of that crazy emotional beautiful soul of a person. She is brave, she is full of life and fire, and most of all she is full to the brim with love and all she wants to do is to share all that love with everyone she meets. She may wear her heart on her sleeve, but she knows the right person will come along one day and will appreciate it. He will be strong enough to handle all of the woman that she is, unafraid, and he won't let her go. I may be a lot to handle, but hey, at least I am unapologetically myself at all times. That's got to count for something!

So I took a leap of faith and I fell. But at least I was brave enough to take the leap. To truly live you have to take risks, and I am so glad that I have the will to keep taking them. I will always get back up, and I will always be moving forward. 

For those of you who took the time to read this very personal experience of mine, I thank you. You now have a little piece of my heart put down in words. It is my deepest hope that by being so transparent and vulnerable that I can inspire others to do the same. To maybe recognize themselves in my experience and to feel good knowing that they are not alone. Believe me, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. If you feel like no one else in the world cares, just know that I do. 

Also, THANK YOU SO MUCH to my friends who have taken the time to listen and who have shown their support and shared their own experiences with me. You are so appreciated and I am so thankful for the kind words you have shared and the hope you have restored in my heart. 

Just remember, there will be times when life gets you down but just keep swimming. <3 

 

 



A North Eastern Oasis

At first, we thought we were placed in Nakhon Pathom. We were wrong. Our city was Nakhon Phanom, which is located in far North East Thailand, along the border of Laos. The confusion between the names is understandable, but nothing could be more different than these two cities. Nakhon Phanom is about as far North East as you can go and Nakhon Pathom is a suburb of Thailand’s epicenter, Bangkok. Once we began to research our actual city, we found it harder than anticipated because North East Thailand is little trafficked by Western travelers and bloggers. For the first times in our lives, we really weren’t sure what to expect. We could only wait and see what our town was like.

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Our first sight of the city was early in the morning. We arrived groggily on an overnight bus to the small station. About ten minutes after we arrived, a bus filled with our coordinator and a few fellow teachers pulled up to transport us to our accommodations. Looking back on it is strange. Driving through the streets of a city for the first time is overwhelming. We were so disoriented. I could not have retraced the steps of our short drive. Even though our city isn’t very large, we were lost.

Once we settled in, the next step was to venture out of the apartment. This is when we actually began to experience Nakhon Phanom, but it wasn’t until we left that we truly were able to appreciate our city. We made a day trip to Sakon Nakhon, which I’ve already posted on the blog, and the trip made us tremendously grateful for our neat, quiet city. The simplicity of our city is the result of the size and speed of Nakhon Phanom. We travel on one road every day, leading from our apartment, to school, and eventually, to the river. Img_3850 Img_4485
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We weren’t certain what to expect from our apartment. We had seen pictures of what the standard studios looked like in the area, but if the internet has taught us anything, it has taught us pictures can be misleading. Once we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised. It was very clean and very simple. We have a small balcony on which we can do laundry and dry our clothes. The bathroom is neat, and we have both a shower and a Western toilet. While we don’t have a kitchen, we have a mini fridge, which the Thai people have perfected. Somehow they have managed to put a fully functioning freezer into their units. The Thai are apparently ahead of Americans in mini fridge development. The rest of our apartment is made up of a small closet, a desk, and our bed. While it may not be much by American standards, it is our neat, little home. We’ve hung pictures and designed a lighting system to avoid the harsh fluorescent bulbs, which we were generously provided. IMG_4211

The apartment is overseen by a sassy, old Thai woman named Nit. She is a firecracker. Whenever we see her, she is always telling us a new Thai word to help us learn the language. She is like our Thai mom. She’s always snooping on what is in our trash and looks through our laundry when we bring it down to wash. It’s truly bizarre to have your Thai mom snooping uncomfortably on all your dirty underwear. Privacy is a bit different in Thailand. We appreciate the way she looks after us, even though it has taken us some time to warm up to her antics.

Our school is only a 10 minute walk from our apartment. Once we exit our alley and get to the main road, we only have to take one right turn and then head straight. We do have to watch out for one street dog that doesn’t like us. He lives in our alley, and we have to yell at him to keep him away. Most of the dogs are pretty tame and even friendly, but this one always barks and confronts us. As we became more aggressive with him, we’ve grown in mutual respect and the encounters have shifted from fearful encounters to reluctant acknowledgments. On the other hand, there is another local street dog we pass every day who we have affectionately named Sausage. He loves everybody and greets us with the wag of his tail. He is a lover, not a fighter. When it is too hot he lays under a small brick bench that his little belly barely fits under. He looks adorable wedged under it. Sausage is our local weatherman because we know when he is laying under the bench that it is too hot.

The main road we ride to school is lined with shops, street dogs, and locals. Some locals we’ve grown quite familiar with. They regularly greet us as we commute to school. It’s a simple, uneventful road, but it’s grown to be our familiar place. We know where all the bumps are. The simple ride to school can make you feel like BMX rider in the X games. We’ve also learned exactly how long it takes us to get to school if we are riding fast because we may have been running late once or twice.

Turning right at the first main road will take you to our school. It is on this road where the afternoon vendors will establish their open-air market. They claim the place and it becomes a veritable festival. Each day they are there without fail. We’ve become such consistent customers with certain vendors that they often reward our loyalty with a free item or two. We are slowly learning our vendor's names and beginning to have simple conversations. This is one of our favorite parts of our day. We’ve just finished work and stock up on dinner for later. The fresh, cheap food is some of the best we’ve found, and we love participating in the local culture alongside our students and fellow co-workers. Img_4597 Img_4599

If you bike past this road and head straight, you will be at the river in a few minutes. As you approach the water, the buildings begin to fade, the trees sprout from the earth, and you are struck by the jutting mounds of the Laos mountains. I say jutting mounds because to describe them as crags or pinnacles would be inaccurate. The mountains of Laos are different than those in the US. Laotian “peaks” are lower in altitude, none towering over 7,000 feet. What they lack in height, they make up for with sheer geometric diversity. Some are low lying, like a long stretch of hills, others stick out like large growths from the earth, looking like a gigantic, unearthed bulb. The diversity of their “crags” is, nonetheless, a remarkable and beautiful sight. IMG_3648

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It is in the sight of this unique landscape that we enjoy our picnic dinners. We eat, read, and rest each evening. There is even a running and exercise community at the river. A bike lane lines the water and many runners crowd the path. Along this track, are sporadic groupings of public workout machines. Some of them seems to capitalize on body momentum more than any discernible muscle group, but the Thai seem unbothered and can routinely be seen breaking a sweat on them. Despite their sweat, we actually enjoy cooler weather by there river and find it a place of excellent rest after a long day of teaching. We are tremendously grateful for the river oasis. IMG_3629

This is our a life now. One long street stretching from home, to work, to relaxation. All of it on the same, straight road. The simplicity is overwhelming at times. I step back and think, “wait I don’t have to change lanes? There are no exits? What about interchanges? Do I need to be looking for the next freeway? What if I miss my next turn?” In this life, there is no missing your exit. We leave our apartment and are soon at work. It takes less than 10 minutes. The simplicity affords us time for reflection, something I’ve never had in such abundance. Time to think. Time to rest. Time to read. Back in Southern California, we needed to make war for these things and at our best scraped out a little time. Here, it is present in abundance. Now, I don’t say this to paint some unrealistic, utopian reality. There are all sorts of other discomforts and difficulties. We have to carry all of our groceries in backpacks back from the store in ridiculous heat. That’s a massive inconvenience that makes me miss my truck. Instead, I share it to say that simplicity does exist. It isn’t a unicorn. Something we see on children t-shirts and in movies, but know to be a fictitious invention. Simplicity, time, space, they are more like a rare species of elephant hunted by poachers. Something real, but rarely seen, and a reality we seriously risk losing. I think we prefer to think of simplicity as a unicorn because then we are relieved of any opportunity to fight for it. We do not like to think of it as an endangered elephant because then we have an obligation to respond, to fight the poachers of our time, and defend the very simplicity we desperately need. If we do not fight for it, it will be lost, and simplicity may very well become extinct. We must protect our endangered friend because the simplicity of one street is a powerful thing.

Nakhon Phanom is more than one street, but this road is the embodiment of our life in this new city. That is why we love our city. We love the size. We love the pace. We love the simplicity of it all. The beauty and slowness of this place is a gift we greatly appreciate.

Laos in Pictures

VLaos was a beautiful country  filled with amazingly nice people, great food, cool temples, and a lot of nature.

I thought driving from Vientiane to Vang Vieng might kill me-the roads are extremely windy but our van made it safely. We even traveled safely from Vang Vieng to Luang Probang too!

These photos show the sites I visited, some of the people I met, and how green this small country is! If you can visit Laos I would recommend Vang Vieng or Luang Probang! 10/10 these cities below me away.

Lesson Learned- The Time is Now

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As soon as I let go of the irrational fear that I might die a shark death here, it became my new favorite place. Railay Beach, Thailand

I wanted to take a little time to answer some of the questions I have gotten from friends and family about traveling and living in Thailand. For those who have the same reoccurring thoughts about living or experiencing a different life, that quickly get pushed away to the part of your brain where memories from freshman year of college live, this one goes out to you. To those of you who is looking at participating in the CIEE program, and anyone that wants to travel but is scared, this one is for you too.

The Unwritten Rules-

There are unwritten rules in life that we follow. We don't know how we know them, we just do. These include but are not limited to treating your server like a queen because they hold all the power, whistling in any context is only fun for the whistler and absolutely no one else, and responding to a text with "k" is code for, go sit on a cactus. 

The same things applies when traveling, don't be "that," traveler that adds to our countries bad name, cover your shoulders especially around holy places, and live fast, travel slow. Don't try to mm-bop, Hanson your way through the country.  My best advice on traveling in Thailand is that spending quality time in one place outweighs going to many places in a short amount of time. What does that mean? If you are going to come to this country, figure out how to be here not just spark-notes skim over it, there is too much to understand it takes time to truly unfold. 

To Work it or Not-

 There is a stark difference to living abroad and working abroad. As a teacher in a foreign country, I have a purpose and a direction to stick to, and Mondays still feel like Mondays. If you like to multi-task, a pay check and a beach vacation at the same time, find a job abroad. They are easy to find especially if you have heard about resumes, and actually utilize them. It is mostly a good option if you are anything like me and your current bank account balance is equivalent to one road-trip worth of snacks at 7-eleven. 

 If taking a side road to your career and life is in the cards and you can put things on hold, travel to all the places, see all the things. For the love of all things right in the world, find time to shower. I am sick of dodging bed bugs in places that foreigners rain down upon in great numbers.

You Can Go Your Own Way-The Bucket Un-list

I read a quote recently that said, "travel not to find yourself, but to rediscover who you have always been." This struck me because, this isn't the typical song and dance that you hear. You always hear ideas about finding yourself, growing, changing, becoming the person we are meant to be. To me, that just sounds like a lame way to describe the life cycle of a butterfly. Those things already imply that you are lacking something and that you will have to travel many miles, in order to stumble across some profound, Societies-level insight about life. It doesn't work like that.

Go out in the world to find out what exactly you’ve got to work with already. We are equipped with many more abilities then we actually use, (see: drive through windows and online shopping.) Discover your own dark side of the moon, so to speak, the areas of yourself that can only shake out when you’re forced to live a different life. Turn that Bill Nye like, potential energy, into forward movement. I don't know much about science but I feel like I gathered that nothing changes if nothing changes. 


Teaching … Traveling … Always Learning

I’ve been in Thailand for six months and while many colleagues are heading back to their home countries, I’m staying on for another half year. I will miss the friends I have made, but am looking forward to meeting new ones.

My teaching is going very well. An unexpected boost has been the improvement in my public speaking skills. To help ensure the students understand each lesson, I’ve learned to slow down (I can be a very rapid speaker), be well prepared, think thoughts out fully before speaking, and paint stories out of words. Over the last few months, I’ve made a lot of improvement in how I connect with the students and in my ability to speak more slowly and thoughtfully. These little changes are helping students understand the lessons better, and helping me add more passion to my teaching. I love seeing their eyes light up when they understand a lesson. It’s one of the great joys of teaching.

Another great benefit of this job is the opportunity to travel. I have trekked over parts of Northern Thailand and into other countries. Sometimes I journeyed alone and sometimes I traveled or met up with others; regardless, each trip has taught me new things. Here are some universal findings:

  1. Public transportation is not that difficult to use even if you don’t speak, read, or understand the local language. (Although it is fun to get lost sometimes.)
  2. People are very nice and willing to help; even willing to go out of their way to provide assistance.
  3. Real Asian food is so much better than the Americanized versions.
  4. Almost every city has its own culture!
  5. Nature is spectacular. The sunsets over mountains, lakes, rivers, beaches, cities, are amazing each time. (It even makes those 4 am wake up calls worthwhile).

My majors in college were Archaelogy and Anthropology, which helped fulfill my natural curiousity about history and people. So, during each excursion, I’ve made it a point to explore local cultures. Every new city I’ve visited in Thailand showed me more about how Thai’s lived, their traditions and customs, and the differing dialects and foods that still exist. Each temple I stepped inside taught me more about Buddhism, why some monks joined, why they collect food and offerings every day, and how respected they are by the people. It’s been fascinating.

Some trips taught me more than others and not all learnings were historical in nature. For example, I’ve found I can handle a crisis in a foreign country (between things going missing and possible bed bugs) and figure out confusing directions. But the best part is simply the delight to be found in meeting people and exploring off-the-path sites. I’ve learned so much and have enjoyed it all.

A favorite trip was week-long vacation traveling around Laos. Along the way I met new friends who joined me for tubing, bowling, eating and exploring. Here’s a tip: If you want to meet people bring a deck of playing cards. A couple did this at a bar and we ended up closing down the place and then going bowling until 1:00 a.m. One of the pleasures of traveling alone is having the freedom to set – and change – one’s own schedule. I could leave the cities when I wished to, see what I wanted, eat wherever looked interesting, and travel where I wished. It can be quite freeing to not have to be sociable when one doesn’t wish to be.

These six months have flown. I have had interesting experience, made life-long friends, been able to teach great kids, and chased views I have only seen in postcards or movies. Teaching is no easy feat but I think I have a handle on it and am excited to see how much better my lessons are for next semester! Living alone is not the easiest thing in the world but I have hobbies and friends that make it all better! Traveling can be difficult and costly at times but the views, experiences, activities, food, and memories make it worth the long airport lines or missed buses! I am excited for my next six months and thank everyone who has made the first six months so memorable and wonderful.

The cities and countries I have visited are below:

 

Countries:

Thailand

Singapore

Cambodia

Laos

 

Cities:

Thailand:

Bangkok

Chiang Rai

Chiang Mai

Pattaya

Ayutthaya

Kanchanaburi

Singapore:

Singapore

Laos:

Vientiane

Vang Vieng

Luang Prabang

Cambodia:

Siem Reap

 

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Songkran

 

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Night Market-Laos

 

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Chedi Luang-Chiang Mai

 

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Wat Arun-Bangkok

 

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Kuang Si Falls-Laos

I can tell that we are gonna be friends

    Wow, what a whirlwind these past couple of weeks have been. Time is flying by at the speed of light and I'm certain that if time were physical it would be one vibrant blur. As crazy as it seems it still hasn't really hit me yet that I just moved across the world to an entirely different continent...maybe it never will. To be honest it just feels meant to be, each new and exciting day feels a little less like a dream and a little more like reality (although I do still have to pinch myself every now and then.) Having this goal of mine finally realized after two years of being afraid to make the leap feels so fulfilling. Everything just feels so right, timing included. The friends I have made already feel like family, and I feel so blessed to be in my quiet little town of Suphan Buri. This is the first moment since I have been here that I've had the time to sit still by myself, clear my mind, and let the weight of the events of the past few weeks sink in. At this very moment I feel overcome with emotion, my eyes are welling up with tears of pure gratitude. To be here is a privilege that I will never take for granted. I'm not sure if it's the solemn Indie music I have playing in the background as I write, or the storm brewing outside my windows, or the many tea lights I have lit and thoughtfully placed around my new room, but I am sure it is a combination of it all that lends itself to this overwhelming sense of peace and purpose that I feel.

    Now that I've covered the deep stuff it's only fair that I share some of the lighthearted realizations I've had since I've made it to Thailand. For my fellow ESL teachers and travelers alike, I am sure you will find one or more of these extremely relatable, for the rest of you reading this I hope you find these tidbits as entertaining as I do. 

 

We're Going To Be Friends

 

1.) Explosive deuces 

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If you have never experienced the hilarious yet utterly disgusting feeling of a shart, chances are more than likely you will find yourself cracking up alone (or horrified if you lack a sick sense of humor) inside a bathroom stall one day while disposing of your soiled undergarments. If you're one of the lucky ones whose stomach is slightly more well-adjusted to the spices of thai cuisine, chances are you will still experience the hershey squirts on a regular basis. Moral of the story, if you feel a fart coming on DON'T LET IT RIP (or you may end up with a splat.)

 

2.) BYOTP

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Expanding on that thought, if you do experience the rumblings down under you'd better have a roll of toilet paper with you because it is pretty much non-existent here. Luckily pretty much all bathrooms are equipped with a handy dandy bum gun (basically a water hose that blasts your bunghole until it's clean...think of it as a ghetto bidet.) Hopefully if you've got a number two in the works there's a western style toilet nearby or you may find yourself squatting over a hole in the ground closer to your feces than you ever imagined possible. 

 

3.) 7/11

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Never have I seen more 7/11's in my life, and never have I been more excited to have one around every corner (or sometimes even one right next to another.) I am a 7/11 fan girl. Not only is it the perfect place to get a ham and cheese toastee at 2 in the morning (if you know, you know), or a delicious fruit smoothie, it's also the place where most thais pay their bills. Trust me when I say you haven't really experienced 7/11 until you've been to a 7/11 in Asia. I love you 7/11.

 

4.) Dehydration

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Coming from Florida I figured the heat here would be no big deal, after all I am from the sunshine state. WRONG. I have never drank more water in my life. Any water you consume is pretty much instantly sweat out the second it hits your innards. Drinking 3-4 liters of water per day soon becomes the bare minimum. Dehydration is no joke. Also, be prepared to look like you walked straight into the shower with your clothes on within seconds of stepping out into the sun, that's no exaggeration. 

 

5.) Loyal Liva 

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Being that Thai is a tonal language, communication can often be a real challenge. You will find yourself more often than not pronouncing English words in what seems like an entirely inappropriate and racist Thai accent, but it is quite literally the only way non-English speaking Thais will understand what you are saying. 

 

6.) Strays

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If you are a crazy animal lover like myself, the many stray cats and dogs that you find roaming through the streets is both awesome and heart wrenching. I wish I could stop to pet every animal that crosses my path but it's probably not the best idea to risk being bit by what could be a disease ridden critter (monkeys included.) The temptation is strong, and the struggle is real. 

 

7.) No paparazzi please

I never Imagined I would be famous, and obviously I am not, but sometimes it does feel like I am some sort of celebrity. The farther from Asian you look, the more likely it is that you will be stopped and asked for a picture, or even more likely that people will start snapping pictures of you without your permission. 

 

8.) Say whaaaat?

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Get used to seeing a lot of typos on English signage and phrases on clothing that make zero to no sense. To be fair, I guess it's the equivalent of the white chick we all know with the Chinese tattoo that says"love" but actually translates to banana. 

 

9.) Thai nicknames

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Probably my favorite aspect of Thai culture thus far. Thais have names that are often ridiculously long and difficult to pronounce so it is commonplace for Thai people to be called by their nickname which is given to them by their parents. Some of my favorites: 

Nut

Orca

Plankton

Mint

Ping Pong

 

10.) Land of Smiles

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I have only been in Thailand a few short weeks, but I can already say with full confidence that I am in love with this country. I am in love with it's natural beauty, it's delicious food, but most of all with it's genuine and kindhearted people. It is no wonder why the people here are proud to be Thai. I feel so lucky to now call Thailand my home. 

Time Does Fly

Six months. Four countries. Eleven cities. 1,885 photos. 180 students. More planes, trains, buses, vans, tuk tuks, cabs, motorcycles, and songthaews than imaginable. New lifelong friends. Countless memories. Hundreds of temples. And I still have six more months left! Who’s ready for the next leg of my journey? Because I sure am curious to see where these next months will take me. (Of course, I already have plans in the making!)

These past six months have been filled with hard work, some doubts, some depression, and a lot of happiness, love, new experiences, and new sights. It’s a great mix that has shaped me for the better. When things don’t go as planned – items are stolen, lesson plans fall flat, transportation schedules go awry – I’ve learned that when you look for the good and lean on yourself magic happens. It’s a marvelous feeling when a student finally understands a concept, when I see breathtaking views, when a local and I are able to communicate despite language disparities. The good moments keep me strong and their memories linger far longer than those of the bad.

During my time here I’ve had experiences I didn’t fully anticipate: true happiness and deep sadness; times of loneliness tempered with the making of life-long friends; unidentifiable foods, most of which were delicious (although I still don’t know what they were); incredible travels in areas some people only dream about; a deepening appreciation for Asian culture and history, and so much more. There have been hardships and stumbling blocks, but mostly I’ve been able to figure out solutions on my own, pick myself up and keep going. If you’re lucky, adversity teaches reliability and brings strength.

This is the first time I have ever lived alone. That can be difficult enough, but instead of doing it in my home country, I chose a place where I didn’t know the language, was unfamiliar with the culture, and knew absolutely no one. The idea was enthralling; the reality an adventure. I’m strong, capable and adventurous and have loved almost every minute. But, it’s not easy. Living abroad, especially by yourself, is difficult. There is no network of friends nearby, no loving family to visit on a weekend. It takes time to learn the simplest things, such as how to order food, or recognize local landmarks, so you can easily find your way home. Even with extensive research and being well prepared, I still struggled initially.

However, once I looked inward I realized how strong I really am, how much I can handle, and how to make myself content/happy without the help of others. Despite the physical distance, friends, family, and loved ones are easily contactable and make living alone seem less lonely. I’ve also made several good friends and we’ve had some fun times (girls-only nights are amazing). One lesson learned: Next time I live alone I will have a pet as I can’t cuddle plants. Another lesson: I’ve become very comfortable just “being.” Being in the moment. Being present. Being okay with myself: who I am, what I want, what I need; my flaws, my advantages. It has been a bit of an uphill battle to get to this point, and I know I still have a ways to go to be fully content and happy, but I’m secure in my skin and happy with who I am right now.

Just as important – I’m looking forward to my next six months teaching and learning in Thailand!

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                            Celebrating Loy Krathong-November 2017

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                                                  Wat Pho, Bangkok-November 2017

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White Temple, Chiang Rai-Nov 2017

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                                                 Chiang Mai-December 2017

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                                              Angkor Wat, Cambodia-March 2018            
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                                                             Ayutthaya-February 2018





The One With The Final Thoughts

    It's crazy that I'm writing my final Thailand blog post from the same exact spot that I wrote my first one. I am sitting on the floor of my best friend's house but instead of being anxious about leaving America we are anxious about assimilating back into America. It sounds crazy right, I mean we grew up here- how can we harbor any trepidation about being home? Because we are different than we were 6 months ago, that's why.

    6 months ago we were young women embarking on a journey together without a clue of what it would be like. 6 months ago we sat cross-legged on her floor and poured over books about Thailand and tried to learn and prepare for the culture we were about to join. 6 months ago we were sure that the lives we left behind would be patiently waiting for us when we got home. I can't speak for her, but for me- life is different now. Now I know more about the culture than any book from Barnes and Noble could possibly have taught me. Now many aspects of my life that I left behind have completely altered. I've changed career paths, masters programs and schools. I have had to sacrifice aspects of my life I never wanted to sacrifice- and hoped I wouldn't have to. I've crashed and burned literally and figuratively over the last 6 months and you bet your ass I'm a better person because of it all.

    There were so many things about Thailand that shocked me to my core when I arrived that now I barely register. Babies sitting on mother's laps on the backs of motorbikes without helmets... time being a loose guideline rather than a solid basis to revolve my life around... students taking 14 courses at a time... road rules that don't really exist... 90% of the population being happy and willing to assist you to the best of their ability... the cost of everything being so incredibly low... all of these things were concepts I thought I'd never get used to and now I have to adjust myself back to the culture I've always known and honestly many things about Thai culture will be hard to give up. I already miss it so much.

    I look forward to the next chapters in my life and the ways that I'll be able to apply this experience to them. I've grown and changed so much and yet if anything I just feel like a stronger version of myself. I can't wait to see everyone and start piecing my life in America back together, but the first step for that is to sleep a very long time. Thank you to the kind souls who followed along with this blog, you are all the real MVPs. Mai pen rai!

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The Half Way Point

      Six months already. Before I left, people continued to tell me how fast it would go, but I never thought it would feel this short. A year seems like a long time, but in this life of ours, a year such a quick span of time. Though it's gone fast, I have done many things and seen many places. Not every moment has been perfect, but every moment has been a learning experience and has taught me more about myself than I learned in all of high school and college.

    I realize I was going to continue my last blog with all the places I have gone, and it took me this long to get to it. Life gets busy! But outside of Phrae and Lampang here are some more places throughout Thailand that I have gone to and highly recommend!


Chiang Rai:
       I have now been to Chiang Rai twice, both of which were entirely different experiences. The first time was full of rain and exhaustion from jumping from temple to temple and attempting Phu Chi Fa for sunrise. The attempt was somewhat disheartening when the rain and clouds covered our views of the mountains and sunrise. We went back to town still damp from the rain and went straight to the white temple from there. The next day we also saw the Nine Story Pagoda, the big Buddah, the Blue Temple, and the monkey caves. I used the word "exhausting" earlier, but that was actually quite the understatement.
      The next time in Chiang Rai was mainly meant for the International Hot Air Balloon Festival, which was a fun experience mainly for awing over the balloons and hanging out with good friends. It was also in Singha Park, which is a beautiful park full of animals, flowers, and a green tea plantation. Two of my other friends and I decided we wanted to have a second chance at the sunrise on Phu Chi Fa. We did the short hike in the pitch black of the early morning with no rain this time! We got there early enough to get a good spot and star gaze before the sky lightened. It was a beautiful view and was worth trying for a second time!

 

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Chiang Mai:
      A long weekend in Chiang Mai spent doing all things touristy. I met a few friends I got close with at orientation and we did a Thai cooking class, went and hung out with the elephants, zip lined through the mountains, and lit off some Chinese Lanterns for New Years. On the last day I had the day to myself and just took a walk around the city with my Nikon, I found a couple of temples that were decorated full of lights and ribbons for the holiday. I plan to go back and get to know the city a little better.

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Khon Kaen:
         This was a 7 hour bus trip to meet a friend on a regular weekend, so it was pretty quick. But the city (yes, I was surprised to see an actual city after living in Phrae for 4 months) was full of dinosaurs, coffee shops, and temples. I have a pretty fun story about my trip back from Khon Kaen that I will write about in my next blog.



Petchabun:
Of all of the places I have been, Petchabun, surprisingly, rises to the top. It is a small town, with not a ton to do. Many people don't visit this town because it isn't known for anything very famous. The main attraction we went to see was the Mosaic Temple, aka Wat Prathat Phasornkaew. A friend had planned the trip and I went along for the ride not knowing why or really where we were going. And it was well worth it. The mosaic temple was one of the more unique temples I have found in Thailand, where the outside is more lavish and hand crafted with beautiful artwork, while the inside was a simple temple for worship. The rest of the trip was easy going with a random trip to one of the many strawberry fields that overlooked a river and the mountains. It was a trip full of great company and relaxation.

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Udon Thani:

       This town was on my list to visit before even leaving for Thailand. I saw amazing pictures of a lake filled to the brim with bright pink lotuses. Two friends and I decided to seek out the lake one weekend and took the 7 hour journey to Udon Thani from Phrae. The bus system only had certain times to get to and from this city though, so we had to decide whether we only wanted to go for one day and take two over night buses in a row, or stay there for a night and get back at 5 am on Monday morning before we all had work. We decided on a hurricane trip for convenience of time, and it was exhausting but worked out pretty perfectly. We got to the lake around 7 am which made for some amazing photos. It was gorgeous and I would highly recommend making the trip for this lake. The rest of our time there was spent wandering around town finding temples, the park with giant rubber ducks, and the luxury of a mall that we don't have in Phrae. Though it was short, this was one of my favorite trips and well worth the 7 hour ride.

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Pai:
         On my most recent trip, I made the trek out to Pai, Thailand. This trek for me was a 4 hour bus ride from Phrae to Chiang Mai, and then another 3 hour van ride full of twists and turns through the mountains to Pai. Pai is well-known by many foreign tourists, and though it's a fairly small town it caters well to it's Western company. It is known for being a very relaxed and simple town, which I definitely found it to be. I went there for about 5 days to meet 2 friends at different times. My favorite spot in Pai was Lod Cave, it was enormous and beautiful with a river filled with massive fish that you could take a bamboo boat through. Keep in mind, the trip to the cave was 45 minutes on a motorbike (I believe there are also songtow tours if this is something you are interested in), but both friends wanted to go to this cave, so I did the trip twice. The first one was a success, and it was my first time driving with someone else on the bike. The second time I was not so fortunate. I think I got a bit too cocky about my driving abilities and didn't make one of the pin-needle turns while on an incline. Luckily it was a slow and harmless fall. I walked away pretty scratched and bruised (but fine) and my friend only had one small cut. Besides going to the cave, I also went to Mae Yen Waterfalls, but the river was so low that the falls were more of a trickle. We also took a yoga course in Pai, which we would consider ourselves far from being "yogies", so it was a challenging and sweaty vinyasa class to say the least (but a great experience!). And I ended my trip at Pai Canyon, and maybe I am a bit of a canyon snob, having lived a lot of my life in Arizona, but Pai canyon wasn't quite what I expected. But, it still had beautiful views of the Thai mountains that surround it.

 

 

The One With The Last Day In Tak

    I remember hugging my mom at the train station and saying "it's only six months, it'll go by so quickly!!" I wanted to reassure her, I didn't want her to worry because in my head I had begun the process of freaking the F out. SIX MONTHS, SIX. MONTHS. in a foreign country, with people who don't speak my language, in a culture I know next to nothing about. There were so many moments right before I left where I thought "I don't think I can do this..." and now nearly six months have come and gone.

    I was right when I told my mom that it would go by quickly, at least now it feels that way, though there were definitely days when it felt like we had been in Thailand for YEARS and that we were never going home. I don't know how it's possible but after 5 months and one week, we are packed up and getting ready to leave Tak. The place we have called home since November. We still have 17 more days here in Thailand to travel and explore the islands (yay!) but this is out last day in our "hometown." It's unimaginable that we accomplished what we set out to do with only a few set backs along the way. All-in-all this was an adventure I will never forget.

    I'll be coming home in a couple weeks and I know a lot of changes are waiting for me when I get there, some I'm ready for and some I'm not. Some I welcome with open arms and some I'd rather lose my arms than face. But that's the thing about this trip, it's genuinely made me realize I can adapt to any situation or change. I came here with many things that I am not coming home with: the skin I left on the road in Chiang Mai after the motorbike accident, The wallet/passport I lost in Bangkok, a good chunk of my wardrobe that I decided I can really live without, the 20lbs of weight I realized I dropped and many other things that I did not expect to lose while I was over here. 

   I'm so thankful for everyone in my life that has stood by me during this insane period of my life. I am who I am because of your steadfast love and support. We're picking up our other best friend in Bangkok tomorrow night and then the next day we are flying to Phuket. We have so many exciting adventures coming up in the next few weeks and even more adventures when we get back to America. 

    I have been repeating Hagrid's words in my mind over and over since New Years and it's basically become my mantra: "what's coming will come, and we'll meet it when it does." See you soon, America!

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