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4 posts categorized "Ian Rosen"

"It's My Life"

“It’s now or never. I ain’t gonna live forever. I just wanna live while I’m alive. It’s my life.” Thank you, Bon Jovi, for those immortal worlds. Being a millennial, I am a member of an exclusive group of people. I would even go so far as to say that we are the luckiest generation which has ever set foot on Earth.

It’s absolutely insane how much I have been given over the years. I was raised in a suburb just outside New York City, the greatest city on Earth. Yes, that’s a fact and no, I am not biased. I was given a fantastic college experience and walked away with a hard earned bachelor’s degree in biology. And I have been given the amazing opportunity to travel to and live in Asia in the twenty-fifth year of my life. I mean seriously, how many people do you know who can say they lived in Asia? I promise, I am not trying to brag. I’m really not. But my point here, is this… On the back end of my parents’ hard work, and that of each generation before them, I have been given an opportunity. And you can bet your ass that I will not let it go to waste.

I have now been in Thailand for just short of two months, and I cannot believe how fast the time has gone by. In just five short days, I will be passing out midterm exams, and a quarter of my time teaching will already be in the past.

In past posts, I’ve commented here and there on life in Thailand. I’ve even dedicated most of a post to a key aspect of life here – loneliness. But that was a mistake on my part. Not putting my heart on paper. No, that was super hard to do and I applaud myself for doing it. The mistake was giving you, my audience, a negative view of my time thus far. And for that, I’m sorry. Here’s the truth. Life always has wins and losses. We can celebrate the wins, but it is the losses that make us better versions of ourselves. Since moving abroad, that ideal has solidified itself in me. While I have already grown so much from a variety of failures, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about the successes as well. And trust me, there’s a lot of them. For the sake of my fingers, and to avoid a ‘TLDR’ (too long, didn’t read) on your part, I’m only going to go through the big ones.

So let’s start with travel. When we first arrived in Thailand, which already feels like a lifetime ago, and completed orientation, we were advised not to travel every weekend, or else we might burn out faster than we’d hoped. Despite the warnings, many of us have done exactly the opposite. About twenty other OEG members and I all live within an hour of downtown Bangkok. From there, it is incredibly easy to catch a bus, van, cab or train to virtually anywhere within a six hour drive of the city. And it’s cheap, even when you’re no longer converting Thai Baht to US Dollars. So far I’ve experienced the exquisite moonlit water and blue ocean of Koh Samed, the lush green rainforests and thankfully abundant wildlife of Khao Yai National Park, and, most recently, we ventured over to Kanchanaburi and Erawan National Park. There we visited Erawan Falls, a beautiful cascade of seven different waterfalls, each unique and gorgeous in its own right. We were able to swim in multiple pools filled with skin eating fish – an experience of which I am honestly still unsure of my feelings – and also slide down a natural slide which resulted in a multitude of ingested spring water. Kanchanaburi is also where the famous Death Railway and the bridge over the River Kwai are both located. So on our second day there we hopped over to the railway museum and even got an underwhelming glance at the touristified bridge.

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On the weekends when traveling outside of the city isn’t in the cards, there is still plenty of time to explore the city of Bangkok. In the many weekends when this has occurred, I have yet to repeat an activity. It’s easy to spend a whole weekend in Bangkok, and I honestly prefer it. Finding a cheap hostel, usually on Sukhumvit Soi 11, is easy. After that, the city becomes my oyster – from China Town to Fourth of July picnics to Lumphini Park to the occasional wandered upon Buddhist temple. There really is so much to see and do in Bangkok. I know I’ve only scratched the surface.

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Recently we were able to take part in an event called Bangkok for Orlando. Early last month, forty-nine innocent people lost their lives in the largest mass shooting our country has ever seen. I’m not going to get into how horrible it was or any of the politics behind it. I do not believe it is my place, nor do I have the right, to comment in that respect. What I do want to comment on is the outpouring of love shown by everyone around the world, even here, in our tiny little corner of Southeast Asia. Numerous members and allies alike of the LGBT community came together in Bangkok and brought together people from all walks of life in mourning and in celebration of the lives lost that day. After a few speakers said their both their piece and their peace, including my friend Colleen, who is proud to call Orlando her home, we stepped outside to make a human chain down the length of Silom Soi 4. Standing there, hand-in-hand, we closed our eyes in silence for forty-nine seconds.

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Lastly, let’s talk about my teaching. After all, that’s why I’m here, is it not? I know that in a previous post I talked about various failures, both minute and massive, with the result being feelings of loneliness and sometimes inadequacies. But I’d like to put the record straight. That’s not even close to what the majority of my days are like. They weren’t the majority then, and they’ve grown fewer and farther with every day since. Every day I come to school, I am blessed with a truly great group of students. Sure, there are days when they have no desire to listen and quieting them down seems like an insurmountable exercise. But then I remember that I wasn’t exactly an angel when I was in middle school, either. On other days, they are attentive and they answer questions with thought out responses. And they’re smart! They really are. They’re so intuitive about the world around them, and sometimes I think it is only my lack of enthusiasm for the English language that is holding them back. Recently, we finished up a unit on the environment and its pertaining issues. We didn’t even come close to finishing the lesson because one student’s answer sparked a class discussion that went right up until the bell.

And let’s not forget the view. My little district of Saphan Sung is located a short distance from the capitol city of Bangkok, and on a good day you can see the city and beyond. One particularly beautiful day, I decided to take my first adventure to the seventh floor of our school and the result was well worth it. With one of the many lakes of Sammakorn Village setting the stage, with ocean blue skies and wispy white clouds, the not so far off city really does look fantastic. The picture, I promise, does not do it justice. To come to work and see that every day lets me know that I’m doing something right. I’m not some high profile executive in a Manhattan high-rise. But who cares? I sure as hell don’t. I get to experience life on my terms. I would much rather be traveling the world, using this opportunity to the fullest, than sitting in an office 24/7 whittling away at my keyboard.

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I have not had to fight for much in my life. Much of what I have now has been handed to me on the shiniest of silver platters. I am the grandson of immigrants, whose families traveled to America circa World War II, in a successful attempt to better the future for their families. I am the first in a long line of Rosens and Fehers who has, quite literally, been given the world.

From a young age my parents both stressed that I should do what makes me happy in life. No matter the path, what was most important was that I find myself and stay true to myself. I’m only twenty-five years old. By no means am I all knowing about life and its innumerable intricacies. But I can assure you that I have found the right path for myself. I have no idea what comes next, and I don’t think I want to know. But what’s important is that I take what I learn here in Thailand, and make sure that I use it in life to the best of my ability. It’s my life. I am most definitely not going to live forever. But it the time that I do have, I’ll be damned if I don’t live it to the fullest.

A World Worth Saving

Before I departed from the United States on my journey across the world, people often asked me, "Why Thailand?" My answers generally similar, eventually getting to the point of feeling rehearsed. I love to travel and I genuinely enjoy working with kids. Or I would talk about Thailand's growing ecotourism industry and, with it, the growing need for English speaking citizens. Or sometimes I would counter their question simply with "Why not?" to which they would give me a confused look and I would inevitably give them one of the aforementioned scripted responses.

But I don't think I could really ever put into words, until now, the real reason why I chose Thailand over places like Spain or Peru or China or Morocco. My hero, and world renowned wildlife conservationist, the late Steve Irwin once said, "… if we can touch people about wildlife, then they wanna save it. Because humans wanna save things that they love…" So that is why I am here. To share my experience with the people around me, to help them fall in love with this world and see it as I do. A world worth saving.

This past weekend, I left Bangkok behind and went off adventuring with a group of friends to Khao Yai National Park. A quick and easy three hour van ride northeast to Pak Chong in the province of Nakhon Ratchasima and we had arrived safely at Bobby's Apartments. If you enjoy sleeping in on your weekends and then fulfilling your duty as the resident couch potato, then this weekend of adventure would not have been for you.

A 6:30am ham and cheese breakfast on Saturday morning quickly drifted toward our 7:00am departure from the apartments. Riding in our songtaew with our two new friends from Holland - a lovely couple on a four week holiday - we took a quick six kilometer jaunt from Bobby's to the park. Once we arrived at the front of the park, we donned our fancy new "sexy leech socks," took a gloriously cliché picture of everybody jumping in front of the park entrance sign and then we were on our way.

Those of you who know me know how passionate I am about animals and wildlife in general. I was a kid in a candy store. We drove slowly through the park and every time we stopped to look at something, I thought my heart would burst out of my chest. But it didn't stop there... This was a twelve hour tour.

If you think that the peak of my excitement hit when we got out of the songtaew, you could not be more wrong. After disembarking from our four wheeled transport, we proceeded to trek through the jungle. At first we followed a clear path. But the path quickly gave way to pure, unadulterated jungle. Without our amazing tour guide, JJ, we would have, without a shadow of a doubt, become lost within seconds without a single hope of returning to our students by Monday. When I say JJ was amazing, I mean it. Not only was she funny, calling every animal under the sun "sexy," but she knew EXACTLY where to look. Without her, we would have never even caught a glimpse of the awesome wildlife Khao Yai has to offer.

The wildlife. This is where I really got into it. Whenever JJ ran, I was right on her heels. Whenever JJ shushed the group, I too shushed the group - sometimes a little too adamantly, I will admit. But damn, did we see some incredible things. For someone such as myself, this, ladies and gentlemen, was truly what dreams are made of.

As you walk through the jungle in Khao Yai, you can actually hear gibbons calling off in the distance. To the untrained ear, these calls sound much like that of a bird. But JJ knew exactly what they were and where to find them. For those of you who don't know, a gibbon is a small, arboreal species of lesser ape, living mostly in the jungles of East and Southeast Asia. Seeing or even just hearing gibbons in the wild is an experience not to be taken lightly by anyone. Gibbon populations are seriously dwindling due mostly to deforestation, but also due to reasons such as illegal wildlife trade, poaching and sometimes their body parts (mostly their hands) are used in Chinese medicines. According to the IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) Red List, gibbons are listed as endangered. Luckily for us, Khao Yai National Park seems to be one of the few places left where lar, or white-handed, gibbons and pileated gibbons are found more often than not. We were lucky enough to see not one, not two, but three gibbons over the course of our tour.

 

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A lar gibbon watches us wearily from the trees above. Photo courtesy of JJ.

Every now and again, we would wander back to the songtaew and drive to another part of the park. One stop we made was atop a hillside leading down to a crocodile infested river. Once we made it down the steep slope to the riverbank, we paced back and forth along the water's edge, passing signs that read "Danger! No swimming!" and "Beware Crocodiles." I trusted that JJ knew what she was doing. Still, part of me was both terrified and excited at the prospect of seeing one of these prehistoric reptiles. Lo and behold, after several minutes of tiptoeing up and down the river, we came across a beautiful Siamese crocodile. This scaly beauty was at least seven feet long as it lay quietly, basking on a large log in the hot Thailand sun. I was so taken aback, I forgot to notice the other tour group standing beside us, which coincidentally contained two other OEG members who had come separately from us to explore all that Khao Yai had to offer. We hurriedly said our hellos and subsequent goodbyes and were off into the green glory yet again.

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Photo taken by our tour guide, JJ

After our encounter with the crocodile, we were heading back to the songtaew when I think JJ decided to check one last time for something down a pathwe'd already traveled. Whatever she was looking for, she found it. Suddenly, JJ took off sprinting down the path. This woman was on a mission. Then her sprint transformed into a quick and quiet walk before stopping completely at the edge of a clearing. "Do you see it," she asked, pointing to the trees on the other side of the clearing. I shook my head. "Do you see it?" Nope. "Do you..." She fell silent as the thing began to move. Suddenly the large grey rock I had been looking at began to shake all of the surrounding trees as it picked out its mid afternoon snack. Slowly, the massive male Asian elephant came into view. First, I saw its large torso. Then its left ear flapped as it swatted the flies away and used its trunk to pull branches off the ground and out of the trees. Last, the tusks became visible. My god, the tusks. Beautiful ivory spears protruded from the animal's mouth extending three feet to a deadly point.

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Another great photo by JJ

I was even more excited to see this handsome male than I was to see any of the gibbons. Now let me tell you why. Asian elephants are a species that is found here in the jungles of Asia and, much like gibbons, are listed by the IUCN as endangered. But as more of Asia is converted into farmland, more and more elephants are coming into contact with humans. While this is an obvious example of deforestation, it is also the reason for many human-elephant conflicts. Elephants will sometimes destroy farmers' crops, or even occasionally kill a person. As a result, the elephant is then hunted down and killed. Some experts believe that this type of encounter is now the number one cause of elephant deaths in Asia. As many of you may know, all elephants - both African and Asian - are hunted for their tusks which are made of ivory. This is not as large of an issue for Asian elephants as it is for their African brethren, but still the issue does persist.

Unfortunately, poaching and chance encounters with wild elephants are not the only two factors contributing to their endangered status. Many elephants are also captured in the wild and then traded illegally for both the timber and tourism industries. The elephants are then used either as labor slaves or for elephant rides for the uneducated tourist. What makes these situations even more unfortunate is the quality of care which these elephants are provided and the blatant lack of humanity displayed by their mahouts (owners/trainers). I had the unfortunate opportunity to see some of these elephants on display during our trip to the floating markets of Ayutthaya. These magnificent beasts were chained to fences and housed in small yards barely big enough for them to sway side to side, let alone move in any sort of beneficial manner.

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Luckily, various organizations such as the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) are working with local populations to reduce conflicts, as well as with authorities to improve law enforcement regarding the trade of elephants and their parts.

Now! Back to Khao Yai! The rest of the tour went by in a daze. Though I had many an opportunity to photograph the various creepy crawlies of Khao Yai, and we were, at one point, surrounded by a horde of macaques, my mind was back with the elephants and the gibbons.

I had an amazing time at Khao Yai National Park. I was truly in my element as I spewed fact after fact about elephants, gibbons, crocodiles and everything else we saw along the way. This past weekend was my reminder of why I am in Thailand - besides wanting to teach of course. There is so much of this world I have yet to see, which means there is equally as much of this world that I have yet to share my passion for - or maybe even develop an undiscovered passion for. I sincerely hope that that same passion came across here as I lead you through my experience with some of the most magnificent animals I have ever seen. This world can only give so much, and I hope I have begun to inspire you to take just a little less from it. We really do live in a world worth saving. So, as Steve Irwin would say, I "... thank you for coming with me. Yeah! Let's get 'em!"

Trust and Truthfulness

Hello! First, I should apologize. It's been far too long since my first and only post. These past three weeks have been filled with stress and relief, loneliness and social stimulation, and stomach calms and stomach not-so-calms, just to name a few of the things Thailand has thrown my way thus far.
 
I will dive into all of that in my next post. Now that I've got my feet on solid ground, I'm hoping these posts will be coming much more frequently. Before that, though, I would like to share with you something I've started to think about over the course of the last three weeks... Trust and truthfulness. Mind you, these are not concepts for which beginning to learn is easy, nor are they easily mastered. And honestly, I'm not sure if true mastery is even in the cards in this case. Just bear with me while I pretend to know what I'm talking about.
 
Now let me explain. Coming to Thailand, I knew I would be alone. Yes, I met a fantastic group of seventy-two people at orientation, and yes, there are other Westerners and fluent English speakers at my school. But when you break it down to the most basic level, I am on my own.
 
 
Being alone is not a bad thing. In the mere four weeks I have been in Thailand, I have learned so much about myself, especially in regards to my threshold for loneliness and my ability to deal with failure.
 
Let's start with failure... Before coming to Thailand, I was terrified of the mere thought of failing. I thought that if I failed at anything while abroad, it would be the start of a spiraling whirlpool not even the Black Pearl could escape. Boy was I wrong. I fail at various things almost on a daily basis. Sometimes lesson plans are incomplete, or a class that I had planned takes a turn for the worse. When I travel, I regularly get on the wrong bus, songthaew, or river boat and even more regularly get off at the wrong stop or pier. This is especially true with the Saen Saeb river boats (below). They stop at each pier for no more than fifteen to twenty seconds, so the pressure to know where you are going is immense, sometimes to the point of getting off at the wrong pier.
 
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But when things are going awry, whether only slightly or rather magnificently, it is important that I keep my wits about me. I tell myself the truth. "Ian, you really botched this one." And then I move on. If I'm in class and nothing is going as planned, I just ride out the storm. There are always blue skies ahead. Just revamp the lesson and try again next time. Trust that you know what you're doing, and tell yourself that you can and will get through it one way or another.
 
Next, I want to quickly touch on loneliness. This is not something I am often open about, but I promised to blog the good, the bad and the evil in regards to the teach in Thailand program, and this is a topic in which I am sure I am not alone.... The first few weeks were okay. It was almost as if I was in vacation mode. Maybe vacation isn't the right word. Let's go with "It still hasn't hit me that I'm going to be here for almost a whole year" mode. Nevertheless, the lonesomes, as I like to call them, had not had quite enough time to fully settle in. The lonesomes did kick in at the end of week two, and the timing could not have been worse. On the weekend of May 20th, after our first week of teaching, myself and around twenty other OEG participants took a trip to the island of Koh Samed.
 
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The first night we arrived, it was only myself and two other people. We arrived pretty late at night, maybe 12:30am, but we decided to spend some time on the beach before heading to bed. As I sat the under the stars, the near full moon glistening on the first ocean I had seen in almost two years, I thought, "Wow. This is my life now." At first, it was an amazing moment. It finally hit me that I was in Thailand, and this life of teaching during the week and traveling on the weekend would be the norm for the next ten months. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that despite all the traveling, I wouldn't be traveling home. The United States was not, nor will it be, on my list of places to visit during my time abroad.
 
Loneliness has been the hardest thing for me to handle thus far. It's not an everyday thing, thank God. But by no means is it a rare occurrence. This brings me back to the point of this post... Trust and truthfulness. When I get lonely, when I start to feel those lonesomes coming on, I tell myself that it is only a temporary emotional state. But I also tell myself that, while temporary, it will come back soon enough. And then I have to trust that I am telling myself the truth. Because I would only be doing myself an injustice by lying to myself. I also take solace knowing that, with practice, I will eventually become better at dealing with what plagues me.
 
If you've gotten this far in this post, I thank you. I don't like to talk about things like loneliness, but sometimes it has to be done. But just for good measure, and to keep you content until next time, here's a pretty flower for your troubles, courtesy of Naga Bungalows on Koh Samed:
 
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

 

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