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New Years: A Time for Friends and Spontaneous Adventures

While Christmas is not celebrated by most in Thailand, New Years is full of festivities.  In Chanthaburi where I teach, there is a big New Years market where people from all over the Chanthaburi province come and sell goods such as furniture, plants, clothes, and food.  For about a week this market went on, and it was constantly bustling with people, filled with aromas, and with the sounds of live music that went on until late at night.  

For New Years I went to Chiang Mai again, which was really fun.  I met up with some friends I met at orientation, and we had a great time exploring the city, eating delicious food, and bringing in the New Year by releasing paper lanterns into the sky and dancing the night away.  Chiang Mai is definitely one of my favorite places I've been in Thailand thus far.  There is a lot to do and see, but the city is pretty relaxed and not far from many natural attractions.  

On my way back home I took the overnight train from Chiang Mai, which got me into Bangkok early Monday morning.  Initially I thought I would grab breakfast and maybe walk around Bangkok for a while, but it was still so early, and Bangkok is so big that I did not know where to start.  I asked someone at the train station if he had any recommendations of places to go, and he suggested Ayutthaya.  Ayutthaya is the old capital of Thailand, and is a place I had been wanting to visit anyways, so I took his suggestion and went to Ayutthaya!  Ayuthaya is is about two hours by train from Bangkok, and costed just 20 baht ($0.56)!  When I arrived I got lunch and then found a hostel with an open bed.  The hostel I stayed at is called Allsum Hostel, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone traveling to Ayutthaya!  It is very nice and not expensive either.  Oh my, I am so glad I took this impromptu trip!  Ayutthaya is so beautiful and rich with history.  There are so many ruins to explore, which is especially nice if you rent a bike for the day since the sites are somewhat spread out.  

Here is an anecdote from my travels in Ayuthaya:

I am walking around one of the ruins, and approach one large structure timidly, because I am not sure if I am allowed to climb up or not.  A group of monks walk up from the other side, and encourage me to come up as well.  When I get up we greet each other, and then the monks ask to take pictures with me.  First, each monk takes out their iPad, and takes an individual photo with me, and then we take a couple of group pictures.  And the whole while I am just laughing, because yet again my preconceived notions of monks is different than reality.  Yes, some monks have iPads and like to take pictures with farangs, some may friend you on Facebook, and just in general they are a lot more approachable to everyday people than I thought they would be.  I've had some very normal conversations with monks since I've been in Thailand, which I really did not expect.  Of course, it is important to always be respectful around monks as they are highly revered in Thai society.  Some may just surprise you with their willingness to talk to you.  If you do get the opportunity to speak to a monk, definitely do.  Its a great way to learn more about their lives, and about buddhism in general.  

Well that is it for now!  Much love and courage to do something you've never done before!

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One Month

Hello Everyone!

I am coming up onto the 1 month mark of being in Thailand. It has been amazing and incredibly overwhelming all at once. One day, I’m in awe and can’t believe the experiences I’m having are real. For example, I went to Koh Samet Island for a weekend getaway and swam in the Gulf of Thailand. The clearest water I have ever seen. Period. We took a small bus (which looked more like a van) two and half hours to a pier where we boarded a speed boat to get to the Island of Koh Samet. The speed boat ride was during sunset, so the sky was breathtaking. It was an unforgettable first weekend adventure and I was able bond with the fellow foreign teachers that I met at orientation.

But even with the beaches and sunsets, it definitely hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Some days are just tough – plain and simple. Teaching is the hardest job I have ever had. I am inexperienced and don’t speak the same language as my students so…. there’s that. I’m teaching 1st and 2nd graders English. I meet with my 1st graders twice a week and my 2nd graders once a week. I have around 330 students (give or take) and I might know about 12 names so far, hence the overwhelming part of my experience! The kids are awesome, energetic and can sometimes be a little “naughty” just like any average 6-8 year old you meet.

One thing that brightens my day is how excited they get when I walk in the room. They make me feel like I am the coolest person ever and I'm not going to tell them otherwise! Also, they love to have fun. I sing a song at the beginning of each of my classes and it gets them moving a little, but most of them just enjoy watching me look silly because I’m the only one singing. Hopefully in a few weeks some will catch on so I can rest my killer Beyonce vocals.

Well that’s all I have for now! To “celebrate” Thanksgiving some foreign teachers and I are off to Ayutthaya to see Buddhist temples and monasteries. I think it’s safe to assume that there won’t be any traditional Thanksgiving food consumed on my part, so eat some mashed potatoes and stuffing for me! Until next time.

The One With The Motorbike Accident

    It was a simple left hand turn.

    Brigette (a friend we met at orientation who also works at our school) and I decided to rent motorbikes to go see the grand canyon in Chiang Mai. Each driver had to leave their passport at the rental company to ensure that the bike gets returned, Brigette didn't have hers so they said we could just take one and ride together. Keep in mind I have never driven a motorbike before but we felt like we could handle it, evidently we were wrong.

    We were going left on red (the equivalent of right on red but in a country where they drive on the left), a completely legal move. It happened so fast. We were trying to make the turn but we both weren't leaning into the curve so instead of making a sharp left, we made a slight left into a car that came up beside us while we were making the turn. We hit the car and then we hit the ground, hard. Our skin is probably still somewhere on the 108 in Chiang Mai to be honest. 

    We both were wearing helmets and I genuinely think if we weren't that things would have been much worse, if not fatal. I bounced my head off the ground but the helmet took all of the blow and aside from some whiplash today I have no head injuries. We stood up, took stock of ourselves and then noticed some really nice guys running over to help us pick up the bike and move it to the side. We each have some bumps bruises and gnarly road rash but all in all we got really lucky that nothing worse happened to us. 

    The important part of the story I want to mention is the way we were treated following the accident. In America if we had hit another car, a very nice one I may add, we would probably have had the cops called on us and some hefty fines on our hands. In Thailand we were taken to the restaurant in front of where the accident happened, given waters, and had our wounds cleaned- all by the people whose car we hit. When I offered her all the Baht (Thai currency) that I had, they refused. She ended up taking 20 baht just to placate me but 20 baht is less than 1 USD. While I was begging them to take some money to pay for the damages she was using google translate to communicate with me, when I said why won't you take money she typed something into google translate. When she turned the phone to me all that it said was "kindness." I wept onto the woman's shoulder and hugged them all, she then pointed at herself and said "Thai friend." The restaurant owners then communicated with the bike rental company and asked them to come pick us/the bike up. They came immediately, brought us back and cleaned all our wounds and bandaged us up without any question. 

    It may go down in history as our worst day in Thailand, but it may also go down as the day filled with the most compassion. With this week being Thanksgiving, I am very aware of all the things I have to be thankful for.  Unnamed (4)
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Unnamed (2)
 Unnamed (5)

Teaching and What I Wish I Knew

 

    I have been teaching in Thailand for the past two weeks. I can’t believe that it has already been two weeks!! Besides learning the ins and outs of my village and adjusting to a new way of life, I have been working on lesson planning and grading. If you have never taught before, this may be more difficult and time consuming than you would expect. However, when the kids grasp the concepts being taught, their faces show so much happiness it makes it all worth it.

    Being in Thailand for almost a month has given me some culture shock in and out of the classroom. Below is a list of five cultural differences I have experienced so far (more will come as I stay longer).

 

1: The Respect of the Students:

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    The students in Thailand respect their teachers much more than those in the U.S. Yes, the students still talk in class, but what middle school student doesn’t? When I ask them to be quiet they show respect by almost immediately quieting down. The students thank me after each class and even those I have never met still say “Sawatdee Kha” (“Good Morning”) and bow their heads to me. Even though the students in Thailand have more respect; how the school is run seems to be slightly more disorganized than in the U.S.

 

2: Thai School Systems:

            The school system in Thailand is more laid back and little less organized than in the U.S. For example, students do not always come to class on time. This can be because they do not want to, or because they were in a meeting with someone and you did not know, or because they were simply taking their time on the way back from lunch or recess. If they are tardy there is an expectation that they will bring the teacher a late slip explaining where they were, but that doesn’t always happen. Another example can be when an entire class doesn’t appear. Other teachers may assume the impacted teachers have been told that a class is on a field trip, but that isn’t always the case. Adaptability is key and you learn to go with the flow. You realize that receiving information at the last minute about your class, such as them not being in attendance due to an event, is not that unusual. Some of this is due to the language barrier, but some is simply the way it is. It has been two weeks and I am learning to live “Mai Pen Rai” – which basically means, “it’s okay.”

 

3: You will Never Stop Sweating:

    You will never stop sweating no matter time of year it is. Currently Thailand is starting their winter and it is still 80 degrees everywhere with about 70% humidity, if not more. Walking to and from school causes my hair to expand and frizz because of the humidity, even at 7:00 am. You will never stop sweating. I hope to eventually get used to the heat, despite having other travelers tell me it’s difficult. On the plus side, a lot of restaurants have outdoor seating, and the fans help cool everything off. I am also glad there is air conditioning where I live. And, I’m grateful I’ve arrived in October, as it is the beginning of winter. I’m hoping I will adjust before summer. My recommendation for travelers: wear clothing that breathes and is loose fitting, and bring deodorant. 

 

4: Food Stores and Restaurants: IMG_2260

    I live in a village that is well off, so there are stores that sell western foods as well as Thai foods. I have been able to find goldfish, peanut butter, Doritos, and Oreos. A lot of food stores also have potato chips, but many of them are interesting flavors: seaweed, sushi, salmon, and other seafood flavors, just to name a few. Pizza is not as hard to come by as one would think. I have found one place that makes decent pizza, and it’s within walking distance. KFC is located at almost ever corner but some of the menu items are spicier than in the U.S. The Thai restaurants have amazing foods. I don’t know what I am ordering most of the time, but Thai owners and employees are really helpful in explaining the items and letting me know if it’s super spicy or not. I have loved 90% of all the Thai foods that I have been eating. There are some that are not good at all; unfortunately I don’t know what they are called.

 

5: Squatter Toilets and Toilet paper:

    Coming over from the U.S. I was used to having toilet paper in all public bathrooms and toilets that were off the ground. What I have found in Thailand are squatter toilets in about 75% of public bathrooms and bum guns, a.k.a. bidets, in every bathroom (some did have toilet paper but not many). I have used some squatter toilets but am still getting used to them and the bum guns. If you use them incorrectly you get your pants all wet – consider it a learning situation.

Even with all of the cultural shocks I am so excited to be in this wonderful country! I can't wait to make even more memories and experience it all! Stay tuned for more! :D

Mai Pen Ra...Wait Where is Everyone?

COCKROACH KILL COUNT UPDATE:

Danielle: 3

Kaitlin: 3

I think our reflexes are getting quicker and they’re getting a bit scared that of all their friends keep dying…

Ok so I have too much time on my hands because I’m blogging far more often than I expected. But I guess that happens when you’re in Thailand and you’re constantly waiting for things to happen or people to show up. If you haven’t heard of “Thai Time,” it’s real…and unsurprisingly, it takes some time to get used to. If you’re considering coming to Thailand, then this blog post is for you. I swear I’m not trying to diss the Thai culture - really, its me, not you Thailand.

If you haven’t been forced to realize what it is over the past few weeks, Thai time is just another way of saying that things move slowly, and being late is not a cause for concern. It seems that my school is trying hard to prove this to me. Maybe one reason for Thai time is because the locals live by the “mai pen rai” way of life, which basically means everything is going to be okay and/or no worries (cue the Hakuna Matata song?). If your bus doesn’t show up…mai pen rai, there will be another one. If classes start 15 minutes late…mai pen rai, just make some stuff up and pretend you aren’t totally thrown off. If you’re given no information about what you’re really supposed to be teaching in your 14 classes but you’re expected to teach anyway…mai pen…you guessed it…rai!

Kaitlin and I haven’t been working at our school long but we’ve already come to the realization that we’re going to be hanging around a lot more often than we thought we would. We work at a large public school with 2700 students, and most of our classes have 30-50 crazy energetic Thai kids in them. The classes are supposed to be 50 minutes long, but they rarely start and end on time. As a bonus, this past week the kids had “Sports Day” so if they didn’t show up to class it was totally normal. And apparently no one bothered to tell us this before we were ditched by most of our students. But alas…mai pen rai.

Everyone says to embrace this go-with-the-flow lifestyle, and I plan to, but I’m not quite there yet. In theory, it’s a really nice way to live life, because Thais don’t want to sweat the small stuff (not including the 5 pounds of literal sweat a day) and instead just enjoy things and not get stressed out. And honestly, in this heat and humidity, I can understand why people move slowly. I’m surprised I haven’t keeled over yet from heat stroke. Hopefully I live to write my next blog post about the end of Sports Day and all the extravagance and ridiculousness that came with it. Sneak peak below:

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Follow me on Instagram to see my day to day activities and life fails: danii_bailey

Spicy? Only a little!

I imagine much of the followership of this blog is comprised of other potential program members, so I’m going to start this post off with some accommodation-based tips. First, let’s talk about roommates. Learning to live with a new roommate from a different region, with different mannerisms can be tricky to navigate but I’ve found that tolerance and patience are the keys to coexisting peacefully. Take my roommate for example. He has eight eyes, about 17,000 limbs, a thorax about the size of my fist, and isn’t much of a talker. Initially, our differences greatly concerned me; how could we possibly make this work? Luckily, over time we’ve found balance and adapted to each other’s lifestyles. During the day while I’m at school, my roommate has the place to himself, a time that he valuably uses to eat some of the ants around. When I come home and slam the door, he is quick on the social cue uptake, returning to his portion of the apartment behind my bathroom mirror. But tread cautiously, this brings me to my second tip: not all roommates will be so accommodating. In these situations, stand up for your own self interest! My other, smaller, multiple-limbed roommates are far less conscious of my boundaries. They take up the entire bathroom, refusing to leave when it’s my turn, and inviting friends over at all hours of the day and night. They have moved in in such hordes that I have begun operating by a trust no freckle philosophy. So, driven by necessity, I forcefully evacuate them daily by spraying them with the bum gun attached to my toilet, and get some target practice with the drain at the far end of my bathroom.

Despite my pesky, uninvited roommates, my apartment has pleasantly surprised me. It has most of the modern amenities I’m used to including air conditioning, a real toilet, and WiFi that functions whenever the mood befalls it. I’m willing to overlook the fact that my “shower” is a haphazardly hung faucet without walls (that inevitably soaks everything I’ve ever owned when I rinse off) because I actually have warm water - an absolute blessing for this anemic weenie. Even my stone-solid mattress has become tolerable, I’m not sure I’ll ever wake up not feeling as though I was hit by a small bus in the middle of the night. We decidedly will not part as friends, but for a prodigious night-thrasher I have adapted better than expected. My apartment feels very safe with two keys required for entry and a security guard posted out front at all night hours. The guard is lovely and a great resource for practicing my Thai. I ask his name, he asks mine. He asks where I’m from, I tell him. He says other words, I smile blankly. We have this interaction anywhere from three to five times a week; I can’t help but be impressed that we are already reaching such existential topics this early in our blossoming friendship.

Predictably, my apartment complex is not the only place I have run into this barrier to communication. Ordering food is either a terrifying brush with the unknown or an exciting opportunity for discovery depending on what kind of person you are. Though there are some restaurants, street food stalls are more common and economical. The stalls don’t have menus, or more alarmingly, pictures, so we have had to get creative with the ways in which we ask for food. At first, our chosen method was to walk up, look into the stall owner’s eyes, and confidently say “one” in Thai. This was usually met with a confused look or an indiscernible follow-up question. This would prompt me to re-plant my feet, puff up my chest, and firmly insist once more, “one”. At this point the stall owner would usually take it upon himself or herself to give me the whitest thing they offered. Then, I would usually turn to Emily and say, “This is going well don’t you think! Should I ask what their name is?” The answer is no, it is not going well, and yes, I will try to ask their name anyway. The effectiveness rate of this probing question, and I’m rounding up here, is about zero percent. According to simple adapt or die philosophies, we have since improved our food ordering mechanisms. We now know how to ask, “Do you have chicken?” (or pork, or beef, etc.) and though this has improved our confidence interval, we still don’t know how to specify further. Thus, I can order chicken but it’s still an unnerving game of poultry roulette. The stakes are high: if I win, I could get delicious chicken breast or leg, but if I lose I could get feet, liver, neck, or a multitude of other mystery parts. The next phase in our evolution was to learn how to ask for food that is only a little spicy. This was an overt waste of my time. Even food that is only “a little” spicy is hot enough to make me salivate fire for several hours. I try and pull back my lips when I eat, effectively looking like the Grinch, to avoid a searing lip burn. If I’m over-zealous with my use of lip, the aftermath looks like I’m wearing red lipstick, or was stung on the lips by a bee. Or a swarm of bees. Actually, make them bloodthirsty wasps, attacking repeatedly. Yeah my palette is only a little Irish, why do you ask?

Thanks for your patience with my rapid succession posting as I try to make up for lost time. Happy hump-day from my home to yours!

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Spicy? Only a little!

I imagine much of the followership of this blog is comprised of other potential program members, so I’m going to start this post off with some accommodation-based tips. First, let’s talk about roommates. Learning to live with a new roommate from a different region, with different mannerisms can be tricky to navigate but I’ve found that tolerance and patience are they keys to coexisting peacefully. Take my roommate for example. He has eight eyes, about 17,000 limbs, a thorax about the size of my fist, and isn’t much of a talker. Initially, our differences greatly concerned me; how could we possibly make this work? Luckily, over time we’ve found balance and adapted to each other’s lifestyles. During the day while I’m at school, my roommate has the place to himself, a time that he valuably uses to eat some of the ants around. When I come home and slam door, he is quick on the social cue uptake, returning to his portion of the apartment behind my bathroom mirror. But tread cautiously, this brings me to my second tip: not all roommates will be so accommodating. In these situations, stand up for your own self interest! My other, smaller, multiple-limbed roommates are far less conscious of my boundaries. They take up the entire bathroom, refusing to leave when it’s my turn, and invite friends over at all hours of the day and night. They have moved in in such hordes that I have begun operating by a trust no freckle philosophy. So, driven by necessity, I forcefully evacuate them daily by spraying them with the bum gun attached to my toilet and getting some target practice with the drain at the far end of my bathroom.

Despite my pesky, uninvited roommates, my apartment has pleasantly surprised me. It has most of the modern amenities I’m used to including air conditioning, a real toilet, and WiFi that functions whenever the mood befalls it. I’m willing to overlook the fact that my “shower” is a haphazardly hung faucet without walls (that inevitably soaks everything I’ve ever owned when I rinse off) because I actually have warm water - an absolute blessing for this anemic weenie. Even my stone-solid mattress has become tolerable, although I’m not sure I’ll ever wake up not feeling as though I was hit by a small bus in the middle of the night. We decidedly will not part as friends, but for a prodigious night-thrasher I have adapted better than expected. My apartment feels very safe with two keys required for entry and a security guard posted out front at all night hours. The guard is lovely and a great resource for practicing my Thai. I ask his name, he asks mine. He asks where I’m from, I tell him. He says other words, I smile blankly. We have this interaction anywhere from three to five times a week; I can’t help but be impressed that we are already reaching such existential topics this early in our blossoming friendship.

Predictably, my apartment complex is not the only place I have run into this barrier to communication. Ordering food is either a terrifying brush with the unknown or an exciting opportunity for discovery depending on what kind of person you are. Though there are some restaurants, street food stalls are more common and economical. The stalls don’t have menus, or more alarmingly, pictures, so we have had to get creative with the ways in which we ask for food. At first, our chosen method was to walk up, look into the stall owner’s eyes, and confidently say “one” in Thai. This was usually met with a confused look or an indiscernible follow-up question. This would prompt me to re-plant my feet, puff up my chest, and firmly insist once more, “one” in Thai. At this point the stall owner would usually take it upon himself or herself to give me the whitest thing they offered. Then, I would usually turn to Emily and say, “This is going well don’t you think! Should I ask what their name is?” The answer is no, it is not going well, and yes, I will try to ask their name anyway. The effectiveness rate of this probing question, and I’m rounding up here, is probably about zero percent. According to simple adapt or die philosophies, we have since improved our food ordering mechanisms. We now know how to ask, “Do you have chicken?” (or pork, or beef, etc.) and though this has improved our confidence interval, we still don’t know how to specify further. Thus, I can order chicken but it’s still an unnerving game of poultry roulette. The stakes are high: if I win, I could get delicious chicken breast or leg, but if I lose I could get feet, liver, neck, or a multitude of other mystery parts. The next phase in our evolution was to learn how to ask for food that is only a little spicy. This was an overt waste of my time. Even food that is only “a little” spicy is hot enough to make me salivate fire for several hours. I try and pull back my lips when I eat, effectively looking like the Grinch, to avoid searing lip burn. If I’m over zealous with my use of lip, the aftermath looks like I’m wearing red lipstick, or was stung on the lips by a bee. Or a swarm of bees. Actually, make them bloodthirsty wasps, attacking repeatedly. Yeah my palette is only a little Irish, why do you ask?

Thanks for your patience with my rapid succession posting as I try to make up for lost time. Happy hump-day from my home to yours!

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Farang Nation

First of all, I apologize for the delayed first blog post. As usual, I have watched my fellow writers be on top of the ball while watching the ball roll away in my rearview mirror. Turns out, adapting to an entirely new language, place, culture, and job is fairly time consuming – who knew! I’ve got a lot to tell, but if you don’t want to go through the rigmarole, the gist of this post is holy shit I moved to Thailand. It has been, predictably, a blood bath and simultaneously some of the best adventures and most fun I've ever had. The enormity of that realization evaded me until the end of our week-long orientation. The program exhaustively trained 200 teachers-to-be in a conference style format in Bangkok. The week was a whirlwind as we battled jetlag, general adjustments, and the figurative stampede to make as many friends as possible, especially those placed in close proximity to our own provinces. At orientation I was lucky to get some uplifting insight on all the things that could possibly kill me during my time in Thailand, including but not limited to: malaria, dehydration, rabid monkeys, crime, motorbikes, and Japanese encephalitis induced brain decay. Awesome.

Jokes aside, the program worked diligently to prepare us for all eventualities in our new homes, which I think the jittery participants appreciated. During the week I formed valuable friendships with fellow adventurers looking to travel on weekends, assimilate to the culture, and have an authentic experience. Alcohol consumption was only a lot involved in this bond forming. My parents remain very proud of my social prowess. At the week's end, it was very difficult to say goodbye to these support systems as we were carted off to remote regions throughout the country. Being filed into the buzzing banquet hall of Thai school coordinators to meet the person who would be responsible for dictating what every detail of my life would look like for the next 6 months remains one of most anxiety inducing situations I’ve ever endured. Upon meeting our coordinator, Dao, Emily and I were herded into a van where we spent the consequent 9 hours trying to discern information about our school from broken English.

At 2am, Emily and I finally reached our province. For reference, Emily is my collegiate best friend turned fellow Thai teacher – I’m so lucky to have her even though the Thai populace is never sure what to do with her boisterous mannerisms or distinct eyebrows. Sensing our exhaustion from the taxing week, Dao insisted that we would have minimal obligations that day. Lesson 1: Thai people are notorious for changing their minds at rapid intervals. After sleeping for a couple of hours on my incognito marble slab disguised as a mattress, Dao was back to fetch the dilapidated Americans and take them to work. Upon arriving at our school, Anuban Amnatcharoen, the car was immediately flooded by a sea of tiny Thai humans yelling, “TEACHAAA” and grabbing at us for any limb they could get ahold of. This, I imagine, is what Justin Beiber must feel like. After introducing ourselves to an assembly of 2000 1st through 6th graders, the cat was out of the bag – fresh meat in town. We had to teach despite a lack of preparation and lesson plans because the students were simply so excited. At the end of the day, we were sent to a meeting with all of the school’s parents (who we absolutely could not communicate with) for introductions and to allow the administration to flex their muscles for having acquired foreign teachers, a rarity in many parts of Thailand.

Our province, Amnatcharoen (pronounced Amnat juh-learn) is a fairly rural area to the far East of Thailand with a population of 375,380. Most locals have never seen a tourist much less a blonde haired (grease-level dependent) and green-eyed American. Suffice it to say Emily and I are the newest local celebs. The novelty is kind of fun but also incredibly exhausting. People stare everywhere we go and are eternally pointing at us and calling us 'farang' (the Thai word for foreigner, not at all derogatory). The Thai people are amazing and kind, there's a reason they call it the land of smiles; however, living here is still fairly isolating. Outside of the school no one speaks English and the people that know a few words or phrases are wary to say them to us because of the Thai shyness complex and the mantra of "saving face".

We're trying to learn Thai to communicate better but the sounds in their alphabet are nearly impossible for non-native speakers to distinguish. There are 32 vowels and 44 consonants and every word can be said in one of five tones (low, high, low then high crescendo, etc.), each of which drastically alters the meaning. The locals have so little practice trying to communicate with non-native speakers, that they often fail to use context clues to meet us halfway with our cringe-worthy pronunciations. I could walk up a food stall and ask if they sell fish or “paa”, only to be met with a look of utter horror and confusion from Thais who have wrongly understood me to be asking if they have any sugar daddies, which is also “paa” but with nuanced tonal differences. So yeah, hard to meet people would be an understatement. Luckily, the co-teachers in our school, who stand in the back of class and clarify for students when communication barriers arise, are lovely, welcoming and very receptive to showing us around outside of school. I'm also in the process of trying to unofficially adopt a dog. By that I mean, I bought some Asian dog treats and try to lure homeless dogs back to my apartment with me in a I-have-some-candy-in-my-windowless-van type of way. No takers yet which is maybe better for me since I cut some corners on the rabies vaccines.

I'm teaching English to 1st-3rd graders and math to 4th-6th graders at school. In case you've never had to teach prime factorization to kids who don't speak English, let me save you the time: 0/10 would not recommend. Don't get me wrong, the kids are amazing, sweet (they call me TEACHAAA DEE and I melt every time) and so excited to have Westerners to learn English from, but I am adorably under-qualified to teach them. Additionally, the school has an appalling lack of resources, which makes it difficult to discern what they've already learned and to get even the most rudimentary resources, like textbooks. I am, as the kids say, free-balling. The flush-less squatty potties at school terrify me so sometimes at lunch I sprint home to poop, but otherwise the other kun kruu (teachers) and I eat buffet style authentic Thai food and sit together in the teachers lounge. Everything is really difficult but also incredible and fun and rewarding. Overall it is a complicated emotional amalgam but definitely net positive. I am happy to be here and doing this. I'm looking forward to slowly making Thailand more comfortable for myself pending I don't die on my motorbike first (my bike is neither a gentleman nor a scholar and the roads are anarchy here, I don't know why they even bother having lanes).

Until next time!

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A Weekend in Bangkok

My first week of classes is over! However, it wasn’t a typical school week. I had classes from Monday-Wednesday, but Thursday the students took a Buddha test all day and Friday was Sports Day, so there were no classes. On Friday, the students participated in the first of four days that are dedicated to playing sports and cheerleading. The second day was Saturday (which we did not attend), and the third and fourth days will be Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

Sports Day in Thailand happens every year in the second semester, and at our school it's quite competitive. All the students are on separate color teams – pink, yellow, purple, green, or blue - which I think they're assigned right when they enter school in grade 7. They kicked off the start of Sports Day with cheerleading performances from each color group. Just imagine 2700 students all screaming for their team to be the best and loudest. It was definitely interesting to watch the students get so excited, and to see the Thai traditions and compare them to US traditions. For one, the students performed some cheerleading stunts with NO mats. If they fell, it would be onto concrete floors.

The rest of the day they play each other in different sports. One of the other foreign language teachers told me that the pink team has won for the last three years in a row. Throughout the day we watched students play basketball, volleyball, ping pong, and a bunch of other sports. We even got to play one of the assistant directors in ping pong before the games began.

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After a ~tough~ week of teaching for only three days, Kaitlin and I decided to go to Bangkok to meet up with a couple friends over the weekend (hayyy Laura and Emily if you’re reading this). Unfortunately, we had to “sign in” at the school Saturday morning, so we’d only be spending one night in Bangkok.

Around 1:00 pm on Saturday, we got on a bus and made the 2-hour journey into the city. When we got there, we met up with our friends at the Chatuchak Weekend Market. Almost immediately I had to buy some coconut ice cream and sticky rice – which is almost the best combination after mango and sticky rice. Next, we had some pad thai and fried rice and eventually we were able to meet up with Laura and Emily.

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After some hours spent shopping, we took the BTS towards the places that we were staying. Laura and Emily were staying with a friends' uncle who lived in a fancy apartment, while Kaitlin and I stayed at a nearby hostel. If you’re planning on going to Bangkok and looking for a cheap, clean and fun place to stay, I HIGHLY recommend going to Bodega Bangkok Hostel. I’ve stayed in my fair share of hostels during my travels, and this was definitely the best one yet.

The reception and bar area is a cozy, adorable space outside with plants and seating. The walls are decorated with cool art and crazy expensive receipts from past visitors. The owner, Ben, has hostels of the same name in Chiang Mai and Phuket, and he was extremely welcoming and fun. He had just launched a bar crawl at his other two locations, and we were the guinea pig group for Bangkok. We paid 300 baht for a large bucket of vodka redbull (so nasty), a beer for the road, and various shots of coconut/pineapple rum (so delicious).

A group of about 15-20 of us left the hostel around midnight and walked to the first bar. Unfortunately, the bar had just closed, so we hopped in taxis and went to The Australia. There was live music with two women singing some awesome throwbacks. The next morning, we checked out at 11 and treated ourselves to an egg, cheese and bacon sandwich on an everything bagel. I can’t tell you how much I miss bagels so this was literally the best thing that could happen to me. Yet another reason to stay at Bodega.

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Kaitlin and I had the day to ourselves and we quickly decided that we needed to find ourselves a pool to relax by. We walked 20 minutes to a hotel we thought had an open to the public pool, but we were turned away. After calling around, the Marriott said we could pay a fee to use theirs. We hopped in a taxi to go there, but a minute later our driver decided he didn’t want to take us. So he made a U-turn and dropped us off where he picked us up. We were having such bad luck that for a minute we really thought we wouldn’t be finding a pool at all. Hot, sweaty, and desperate, we finally found a taxi that turned on their meter and drove us to the Marriott.

Thank god we stuck it out, because we had the best, most relaxing Sunday ever. For a fee we had access to the pool, the gym, sauna and the showers (yay hot water). No surprise, we didn’t take advantage of the gym, but the option was nice anyway.

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On the rooftop was an infinity pool that overlooked Bangkok, a bar that made great mango and rum smoothies, and the perfect chairs to relax in. We really had ourselves a day. That will probably be the most luxurious thing we do for our entire time in Thailand, and we were okay with that.

One reason being that Kaitlin and I have to teach for the next 5 Saturdays due to Sports Day taking up the students’ time during the week. We get a long weekend in December that we will be using to visit Krabi, but until then we can mostly only take day trips or one-night trips on weekends. So in our minds, it was justified spending a bit more money to have a nice day to ourselves.   

We ended the weekend with a quick hour and a half ride home, a banana crepe, and much needed sleep before going back to school on Monday.

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We’re not sure where the next weekend will take us – maybe Ayutthaya, or a national park, but no matter what, we’ll make it work and always have fun!

Follow me on Instagram to see my day to day activities and life fails: danii_bailey

Weird Night Adventures

What should have been an average night out to get dinner quickly turned into one of the most interesting nights me and Kaitlin have had so far in Thailand. I’m honestly laughing to myself thinking about it right now, which is why I wanted to write a blog post about it.

To start, we don’t have a proper kitchen in our house, so it’s generally expected that we go out for most of our meals. By the way, we might spend 50-150 baht depending on how much food we order (that’s about $1.50-$4.50). If we got something off the street it would be even cheaper. So far, we’ve always taken a right at the end of our street, which takes us across the main road and into the city. But this time we turned left to go down the road to a restaurant I found on google.

Around 7:00 pm, we ventured off down the street for what should have been a simple 20-minute walk. We noticed that the further we got, the less people there were on the street, and the area seemed more residential and much quieter. We had 5 minutes to go when all of a sudden a dog ran out from someone’s yard and started barking at us. We thought it would stop, but it started coming closer to us and continued barking. We had been warned of stray dogs sometimes chasing people, so Kaitlin and I quickly turned around and started walking back, but the dog followed us. We were holding onto each others arms hoping it wouldn’t bite us. We knew that if we ran it would 100% chase us, but it was getting so close to our legs it was hard not to freak out. So we casually strolled back down the street clutching each other and swearing under our breaths and thinking “holy shit this dog is going to bite us and we didn’t get a rabies shot we are so screwed.” Luckily, the dog finally stopped and turned around after we had walked far enough away.

Laughing, we kept walking but we were still hungry and didn’t want to walk 15 minutes back home without food, so we hailed down a motorbike taxi and asked him to bring us to the restaurant. He must have thought we were stupid since it was literally right down the street. So we both squeezed onto the back of this poor mans motorbike, our first time on one by the way. We were pretty sure we were going to fall off.

A minute later, we walk into the restaurant and its totally empty except the 3 people working there, and I think “crap did we just go through all that for this restaurant to be closed?” But it was open, so we sat down and admired the décor. It was the cutest restaurant I’ve ever been in. But of course, our luck, the menu was totally in Thai and the workers didn’t speak any English. We just wanted some fried rice with shrimp, but had to use google translate, downloaded the Thai keyboard on my phone, and showed them pictures. We didn’t think they had fried rice because they showed us a picture of a shrimp appetizer, then suggested tom yum goong (a typical spicy Thai soup with prawns). We said yes, as we just wanted something to eat at this point.

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We got the shrimp appetizer, then realized that the workers had whipped out a professional camera and started snapping pictures of us at the table. We couldn’t stop laughing because it was so weird and awkward. We smiled for a picture, and then they continued to have their own photo-shoot around the restaurant. I said to Kaitlin that those pictures were definitely going to show up on Facebook. And of course...they did.

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Then to our surprise, they brought out fried rice and shrimp. That’s when we realized that we accidentally ordered a 3 course shrimp meal. They also arranged the cucumbers and shrimp into heart shapes because apparently Kaitlin and I were on a date. Then came the soup, which we asked not to be spicy, but since you can never underestimate Thai food, it was still extremely hot. We decided to ask to take it home rather than suffer through trying to eat it.

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As we were waiting for the check, a guy came in and started talking to us in English. His name was Jain and he asked where we were from and where we lived, which led to us explaining the dog situation. Kaitlin and I had already devised a plan to take the long way back in order to avoid the dog, but luckily, he offered to drive us home! We had only met him a couple minutes earlier and we were so surprised by his generosity. In the car he told us he’s from Chiang Main and he’s in a band that plays at a local bar/restaurant on the weekends. We exchanged numbers on Line (the Asian equivalent to WhatsApp) and thanked him for the ride.

The night was honestly so weird but really enjoyable! The people at the restaurant were so kind even though we couldn’t speak the same language. They were total champs and went along with our ridiculous attempts to order fried rice. In the end, we found a new place to eat and made some Thai friends along the way! Just goes to show you that anything can happen in Thailand.

Oh, I’m also now considering a rabies shot.

Follow me on Instagram to see my day to day activities and life fails: danii_bailey

I Survived My First Week as a Teacher!!

 

This week has passed in waves; I have experienced highs of feeling very confident, and lows of feeling very lost and defeated. Mostly, I've found that I feel anxious when I am out of the classroom. When I am in the office lesson planning (aka struggling with the questions of what on Earth to teach and where on Earth to start), I am overwhelmed with self-doubt. 

When I am in the classroom, I am a teacher. Fake it 'til you make it, right? 

But really, to my students I am a teacher. They do not know I've never done this before. I wonder how many times I was the naive student, furiously scribbling down notes from the unseasoned teacher who had no idea what nonsense he or she was spewing. While I have not loved every teacher that I have ever had, I have always respected them. But wow, after this first week of teaching I have to say it: teachers do not get nearly enough credit. 

I'm not going to lie: this week was hard. Monday started off easy enough with some introductory lessons, and Tuesday followed suit. But, as Wednesday loomed, I grew increasingly concerned; with introductions over, I had five classes that I needed to teach something (anything!) to. Floundering, I reached out to an old high school English teacher of mine for some advice and possible lesson ideas. He wrote me back almost immediately, saying he would put together some useful materials for me; he closed the email with, "Don't worry. I won't let you drown." Relief, sweet relief.

This is just one example of the many extraordinary educators I have been blessed with during my many years as a student. Individuals whom, despite years of disconnection, take the time to help me when called upon. These are the individuals who shaped me, and who I wish to emulate during my own teaching journey. I am carefully considering the presence I want to be for my students as I head into Week 2.

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I'm a teacher!! Meeting our coordinator after a trip to Kanchanaburi.

 

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Our first day at Sirindhorn School.


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The beautiful campus (peep the yellow English building where I spend all of my time).


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The beautiful campus pt. 2 ft. some students.

 

 

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