Arriving in Bangkok - Orientation and Beyond
Here I am. I'm finally settling into my new apartment in Saphan Sung, Bangkok, Thailand. This is the place I will call home for the next ten months of my life and getting here has been one hell of a ride.
A little over a week ago, on Thursday, May 5th, 2016 I arrived at JFK International with my family and one of the best friends a guy could ask for. After grabbing my boarding passes and saying my goodbyes with an extensive but necessary amount of pictures, hugs and tears, I was on my way to The Land of Smiles via Emirates Airlines... Need I say more? Yes!
Despite the extravagance of EA, the twenty or so hours of traveling was nothing short of grueling and exhausting. Finally, on the morning of May 7th, I stepped off the airplane with two new friends I made along the way and was greeted by a wall of heat and humidity. Mind you... This was still INSIDE the airport. The week that ensued was, like the plane ride, exhausting and, unlike the plane ride, incredibly fun, fulfilling and enriching.
After arriving at the Royal River Hotel, the remaining seventy-two OEG (Oversees Ed Group) participants slowly began to trickle in. I quickly got with a group of lovely new friends and we made our way to lunch at a restaurant called Phorn Restaurant. Mind you, the "ph" here in Thailand is pronounced with just a "p" sound, so yes, you read that right! This new establishment became my new favorite for the week, and I ate dinner here for four consecutive days.
The rest of the week consisted of a Thai Language and Culture course in the mornings and a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course in the afternoon. Both these classes were incredibly helpful, and even after just the first day I felt infinitely more comfortable than when I arrived the day before. A quick shout out to the OEG staff; you guys were all fantastic, helpful and so much fun to hang out with. I wouldn't be nearly as comfortable as I am now without all of you. In the evenings, after a delicious dinner at the Phorn Restaurant, we would break into groups (sometimes small, sometimes massive) and explore what Bangkok had to offer. Getting around was always an adventure, but somehow we all managed just fine.
On the second night we took a super short cab ride and venture over to the famous Khao San Road, aka tourist central. Bars and street vendors were amass on this single street. The beer was decent. The two main beers were Singha and Chang, both of which I would compare to Bud and Coors Light in the United States. Of course, one of the main reasons I came to Thailand was for the food. After a few drinks, a few of us decided it was time to be rather adventurous. It just so happened that a food vendor was rolling by with some more... Unconventional treats. After some debating, a few of us decided it was time to try eating scorpions. Yes, you heard me. I ate a scorpion.
As you can see, it was really quite the spectacle. Once you got past the super crunchy and almost inedible chitinous exoskeleton, the meat on the inside was honestly not half bad.
Aside from taking classes each day, we went on two field trips. First, we went to visit the temples and floating markets of Ayutthaya, the former capital of Siam. The temples were rich with history and hot as hell. We all enjoyed walking around for about two hours, sweating more than any person should ever have to sweat. I broke off a few times from the group to practice my wildlife photography skills.
On the second to last day of orientation, we took a morning trip over to the Grand Palace, in Bangkok. The Royal Family no longer resides there, but apparently it's still used as a summer home to some extent. Walking around the Palace was incredible. Our tour guide was a wealth of information, and to be surrounded by over 200 years of history was truly humbling. Again, the Palace was essentially tourist central. Our tour guide jokingly described it as chicken farming. He wasn't wrong. With the intense heat mixed with the mass amount of surrounding people, I totally got the reference. Though the true intensity of the heat did not become apparent until we were denied a good thirst quenching about halfway through the tour.
Regardless, the Palace has some amazing aesthetics to go with the history and it was a real pleasure to be able to experience it all. Of course, in true Ian fashion, I had to also concentrate on the surrounding flora and fauna.
The next day (yesterday) was a bit of a blur for me, and most people, I think. We had classes in the morning, as usual. But then our afternoon class gave way to meeting our coordinators. This all happened so incredibly fast, I don't think anyone knew that it was really time to say goodbye. After a slightly awkward, but fun conversation with my two coordinators I was rushed out of the hotel so that we could try to avoid the traffic getting out of central city Bangkok. We did not avoid the traffic.
After about an hour drive to Saphan Sung, we arrived at my new apartment. I'm essentially living in a dorm room. I have a not so comfy bed, a refrigerator and a bathroom with most of the necessary amenities. In all honesty, it's not great. But I didn't come to Thailand to neither complain nor sit in my room all day. So that's that. Mai pen rai.
After quickly throwing my stuff in my room, acquiring a key and paying for a month of wifi, we were on our way to visit the school. It's called Nawaminthrachinuthit Triamudomsuksanomklao School, and they understandably shorten it to NTUN. We arrived at the school right as the sun was setting, and it was absolutely stunning from the third floor, where the English Program is located.
After they dropped about ten textbooks and a semester's worth of course outlines and lesson plans on my lap (which all made me feel INFINITELY better about teaching English, Earth Science and Health), they took me out to dinner for some of the most delicious Thai food I'd had yet. Sorry Phorn Restaurant. Between the three of us, we ordered five different dishes. Eventually, four more people showed up (the head of the English Program, her son and other various teachers), and then another four dishes appeared. It was all so fantastic. They all kept shoveling food onto my plate. Suffice it to say, I had one hell of a food coma afterwards.
After dinner, it was time to go home. One of my coordinators dropped me off at my apartment. I did nothing but change into my pjs and drop onto my bed. It didn't even matter that it was a new and unusual place with a not so comfy bed, I was out around 9:30pm and didn't wake up until morning. Upon opening my eyes, I had a thought. "This is it," I thought. "This is Thailand."