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52 posts categorized "*Thai Culture"

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.

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

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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I Might Not Be Full Of Hot Air, But These Balloons Are!

If you are following my blog you already know that I have been to Chiang Rai, in Northern Thailand, but that did not stop me from going again.

I went back to see the International Hot Air Balloon Festival the weekend of February 16-18. I stayed at the same hostel, Sook Jai, and would recommend it if you visit – clean, friendly, just a great place to stay. I walked around the weekend market, shopped, chatted with friends I haven’t seen in a while, ate great food, and listened to a local Thai band, who were quite good. As I did on my first visit, I ended the night with a massage. This could become a habit –massages at midnight make the night so much better. If you ever come to Thailand I would recommend trying to get a foot massage before you head to bed – you will NOT regret it.

Since the balloon festival didn’t begin until 4:00 p.m., a friend and I went to the Mae Fah Luang Art and Culture Park, which hosts some beautiful teak pieces and folk art from the Lanna culture. The park’s artifacts, architecture, and artwork are spectacular, especially against the backdrop of its beautifully landscaped grounds, stunning mountain views and nearby lakes. We also rented a motorbike and rode through some pretty scenery to see the mountains more clearly.

That night all of us went to the International Hot Air Balloon Festival. We ended up at the front of the line, giving us a clear view of the balloons floating by. The balloons were from around the world – how they were transported to Thailand would be interesting to know. The US had a few balloons featured; some were heart-shaped, as it was the Valentine’s Day weekend. My favorite was “The Great Pumpkin” from the Peanuts TV special, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. My second favorite was the “Pirate Parrot with Wooden Leg.” The balloons had to compete in different competitions across the lake – some floated so high they looked like little dots in the clouds. They were beautiful.

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After the balloons powered down we walked around the food booths where delicious aromas wafted through the air. Choosing where to eat wasn’t easy, but in the end the food was only OK – not as good as the smells promised! As night fell, the balloons were re-filled and a light show began (called a “night glow”), accompanied by a Thai pop star. While the balloons remained tethered to the ground, their soft lights diffused the area with a lovely glow as music filled the air. We couldn’t identify the singer, but the music was good and the crowd seemed to know the song. Being it was in Thai, we didn’t sing along. 

 

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This was my first hot air balloon festival and I’ve since added going up in a balloon to my wish list of things to do. Watching multi-colored, multi-styled balloons float through the air at the same time is a must-see event.

This is probably my last trip to Chiang Rai and it was a success. I was able to see the Mae Fah Luang Art and Culture Park and the Hot Air Balloon Festival, which was in Singha Park so I was able to see that too. It was a great trip to Chiang Rai and I stand by the fact that it is a great city to visit.

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Jai Dee

There are some things that one should always say no to: fedoras, going to the DMV, watermelon flavored Oreos, Abercrombie, etc. - authentic experiences with locals is not one of them. So, when one of our friends shot us a message saying her school coordinator had invited us to camp on her family’s property for the Buddha festival a few provinces away – it was a no brainer. As we approached the small town, it became clear that this festival had attracted unprecedented masses. We swerved through traffic and construction until finally conceding that we were lost and haphazardly perched our bikes on a curb to orient ourselves. **edit: haphazardly perched our bikes on a curb for Emily to orient herself as I sat idly, and directionless-ly, by. A pack of interested Thai locals, shocked to see white women traveling alone in the Isan region, promptly ambled over to us. After using their phones to help us find directions and getting to know us, they invited us in for drinks and dinner. In Thai, they do not have a word that literally translates to ‘kind’; instead they said ‘jai dee’ meaning ‘good heart’ which is perhaps the most apt phrasing considering the sheer humanity and compassion we have received from total strangers in this country. And this was simply the beginning! When we arrived to the family property where we would be camping, we were warmly greeted and introduced around. The beers started circling and a fire was built where we roasted mystery tentacles on an open fire (I smell a new hit Christmas single) over the only rudimentary conversation points we could manage. The next morning our host made us coffee while we watched the sun rising over the picturesque rice paddies and oxen awkwardly sauntering by. Seriously – have you ever seen an ox run before? For some reason the word hutzpah comes to mind – so yeah, they run with some serious hutzpah.

We were lulled into deceptive comfort by the serenity of it all just in time for an assaulting group of Thai radio hosts to arrive on the scene. The boisterous men wasted no time capitalizing on how excruciatingly out of place we were (and are… literally always), whipping out multiple go pros, microphones and cameras. Things got away from us rapidly and suddenly we were holding skewered, and still slightly living fish, while butchering Thai words on a live broadcast and video feed. When we thought we’d had all the jesting at our expense that we could endure, the other shoe dropped. “We fish now”, they asserted. Now this was a confusing prompt because as we looked around, there was not a fishing pole to be found. In fact, the only equipment (a word I use lightly) they had brought was a blue curly wig, and a plaid diaper-like ensemble that the boldest among them fashioned into a loin cloth while telling us that he loved us. My impaled fish and I exchanged glances and twitched uneasily in unison. Just when I thought I had reached the apogee of my discomfiture, it was disclosed that our fishing equipment was our hands. And only our hands. I looked to my speared aquatic friend for guidance. He was dead. So, with nothing left to lose, we stripped down to our spandex shorts and descended into the thigh-deep mud. With cameras assaultingly close to our faces, Thai men screamed directions at us and fish writhed around under our feet. With the inaugural warning that some fish had spikes, though there was no way to tell which ones until they were already caught, it was off to the races. This is what separates the boys from the men, I thought as I plunged my hands into the murky water with reckless abandon. What a thrill! What a rush! What a horrifyingly slimy and thrashy pursuit! Our first catch merited lots of squealing and accolades, we were now seasoned professionals though that by no means slowed the radio host hazing. They continued to film us and, as we are confident, make fun of us on a live stream that was watched by 23,000 people and shared by several hundred more. In my life up to that point, I was convinced that the pinnacle of awkwardness was accidentally calling your teacher mom, or saying ‘you too’ to a ticket clerk telling you to enjoy your movie. I humbly stand corrected.

A few weekends later Emily and I found ourselves at a rugby tournament in Bangkok. The path leading us there had been chance encounter with a tournament organizer I had reached out to online that, as usual for our Thai life, escalated rapidly. A week before the tournament, we had our night bus tickets booked and rostered substitute spots on a local team for a weekend of some casual and intermittent play. Wrong. A different team backed out at the last moment creating a hole in the bracket and the organizers suddenly needed me to create a team using all zero women rugby players I knew in Bangkok – awesome. By the time we arrived in Bangkok I had assembled a team with a grant total six players, all with minimal playing experience and all meeting for the first time that day. To play, you need ten players. We strapped on our boots and prepared to be internationally whaled on by teams from Laos, Vietnam, Australia, and the likes. And whale they did. By day two of the tournament, after injuries had taken their toll, we were down to four functional, disheartened players. We implored other teams to loan us players and our dysfunctional squad of four successfully became ten with once problematic caveat – we all spoke different languages. We recruited some multi-lingual passers-by to help us translate in the literal minutes we were given to organize. The attempts were fruitless; introducing: the slaughter part two. It was clear as soon as the first play commenced that none of us knew which positions we were playing much less each others names. The well-organized lady beasts we were opposing showed no pity or mercy, and the blood bath dragged on for what felt like forever. The punishing Bangkok heat and the more punishing full body tackles left us defeated by all definitions of the word: emotionally, physically, spiritually. The shared pitchers after were practically medicine. We shared some laughs with new pals and, unfortunately, practically agreed to do it all again. Oh, how quickly they forget.

Until next time!

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The One With The Field Trip To Chonburi

    I won't lie to you guys, I did not want to go on this trip. At first it sounded pretty cool but then as the preparation meetings began we felt like it was not going to be what we expected. I knew this because this was the first line of the schedule we got:

    Saturday 10pm- DRIVE  OVERNIGHT FOR 9 HOURS WITH 40 STUDENTS AGED 15-17 (lol kill me)

    We worked together (4 other foreign, English teachers and myself) to come up with as many activities and lessons as we could because the whole point of the trip was it was an English camp. By the time we actually left we had it basically figured out. I popped a couple dramamine and slept through the whole ride down. 

    We were very pleasantly surprised by the entire field trip so I'll be the first to say I was wrong to assume it would suck. We checked into a Naval base which also had a sea turtle conservation on it Sea Turtle Conservation Center Royal Thai Navy This honestly might have been the best part of the trip for me. My favorite animals are turtles so getting to see hundreds of them- of all various ages, sizes and species was really incredible. I absolutely had more fun than any of the kids. 

    We then went to a Mangrove forest and got to walk along a wooden bridge and see where mudskippers live, we didn't get to learn as much as we hoped because the guide spoke only in Thai and despite being here nearly 6 months, I still barely speak the language, let alone understand it. 

    Afterwards we checked into our accommodations on the base and then changed to head off to the beach. We played a bunch of games geared towards English speaking and listening and the kids loved getting to play them on the beach (as did the chaperones). After we played some games, we were allowed a couple hours of free time at the ocean which was really nice considering most field trips in America only give you a half hour or so. 

    We then returned to the base to continue with the camp and did some more activities and after all of that we basically crashed into our beds. 

    In the morning we woke up early and caught a ferry to an island called Koh Samae San. What's interesting about this island is that the Royal Thai Navy is in complete control over how it is maintained and cared for which becomes obvious when you see the pristine beaches and crystal clear water. We paid 50 Baht (1.50 USD) to use snorkel gear and be taken by boat out to a roped off area of coral reef where we got to dive and see lots of different sea life, some of the fish are so unafraid that they swim close enough to touch, though of course we didn't touch them. It was awesome, and the fact that the school trip included this blows my mind. We relaxed on the beach the majority of the day and then bussed to Pattaya, another province in Thailand. 

    We stayed right across from the beach and that night the kids put on a gala which consisted of lots of singing, dancing, games, skits and other impressive talents. It was conducted as a competition because throughout the trip the students were split into 6 teams and were earning points for every activity. The English teachers were judges and I genuinely felt like Simon Cowell at some points. Microphones and misplaced responsibilities go straight to my head and I immediately think I am more powerful/important than I am. But we had lots of fun and the kids really enjoyed it. 

    The next day we bopped around Pattaya a little more and then headed back to our province. Aside from the 2hour long karaoke session that took place on the bus on the way home, it was an awesome field trip and I am so glad my assumptions were completely wrong. 

    I attached only pictures of myself and other chaperones because I did not get the permission of the students to post pictures of them on my blog.
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Kanchanaburi Round 2

The second weekend in January me and the usual crew decided we were finally going to go back to Kanchanaburi to see the Erawan waterfalls. We had briefly visited the provence during orientation back in October, and while there we went to the bridge over the river Kwai and had a sunset dinner cruise on a boat. We knew that we'd want to go back to Kanchanaburi eventually, as we hadn't been able to see one of the biggest tourist attractions on our first visit.

Oddly enough, Kaitlin and I had a work party on Friday night, and so did Laura and Emily, which made planning pretty simple. Side note, our work party had a very interesting floral/50's/60's/70's/made-up Thai theme to it, even though the purpose of it was to celebrate New Years (two weeks late I might add). Kaitlin and I had no idea how to dress, so we tried to be as colorful and floral as possible. The party was on a courtyard at our school and consisted of a lot of singing, dancing, celebrating, and gift giving! Generally, we had no idea what was going on most of the time, but it was still fun, as I'll never turn down free food and drinks.


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Since we all had the same schedule, planning the weekend was pretty simple. We would meet in Bangkok in the afternoon and take a ferry across the river and walk to the Thonburi train station. From there we would get on the 3:00 pm train and make the 3 hour journey to Kanchanaburi, stay the night, head to the falls Sunday morning, and then take a van back to Bangkok.

The funny thing about Thailand is there are always a million and one ways to get around. Whether you choose to take a motorbike taxi, van, bus, train, walk, regular taxi, tuk tuk, songthaew, boat, ferry, the BTS (Bangkok's skytrain), or the MRT (Bangkok's subway) is up to you! I use several of these modes of transportation on a regular basis, and of course we knew this weekend would be no different.

First, we took a van from Saraburi to Bangkok, where we got off at the Mochit BTS station and took it a few stops into the city. From there the plan was to taxi to the ferry pier, ride over and then walk to the train station. While researching how to get to Kanchanaburi, we had found out that there are only two trains a day that leave out of Bangkok. One at 7:50 am and one at 3:00 pm (or so we thought). But once we stepped out of the BTS, Laura and Emily texted us and said they were already at the station and the train was actually at 1:45, not 3. At that point it was about 1:15, and the station was about 25 minutes away. Bangkok traffic is a literal nightmare, so we quickly hailed a taxi and prayed that our driver could get us there on time. That man turned out to be a godsend because he managed to get us there in 20 minutes on an empty tank of gas.

The train ride there was pretty slow moving, but all the windows were open in the cars so the nice breeze, combined with the scenery, made for a pretty relaxing ride. Around 4:30 we checked into our hostel, got dinner, and wandered around the night market nearby. We stayed at Asleep Hostel, which was pretty basic, nothing special, but it was in the perfect location to get to Erawan National Park. A bus picked us up outside a 7/11 at 8:00 am Sunday morning, and we got to the falls about an hour and a half later.

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Erawan consisted of 7 waterfall levels, the first four or five being very easy to get to. Once you get past the fifth one, the perfect dirt path kind of disappears, and instead you have to walk through water and over rocks to get to the top. We met a couple girls from Canada on the bus ride there, so we hiked up with them and the six of us made it all the way to the 7th fall before stopping and jumping in! That was honestly the hardest part about the hike, as every fall and the beautiful blue waters were so inviting. Also, once you jumped in, there were fish in the waters that would come up to you and nibble on your skin. Some fish were pretty small, and others were much much bigger - definitely stayed away from those ones. It was the weirdest feeling ever, but after awhile I definitely enjoyed it - not going to say no to a free pedicure?

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Around 2 pm we got on the bus back to Kanchanaburi, took a songthaew to the bus station, and got a van back to Bangkok. The ride home ended up taking four hours, and we didn't get to the Mochit bus terminal until 8 pm. Then the bus that Kaitlin and I were taking home didn't end up leaving until 9:30, so we got home around 11:30 pm. The crazy thing is that Saraburi is only 3 hours away from Kanchanaburi, but because there are no direct forms of transportation to and from, we had to go to Bangkok in order to get there. So basically, Thailand transportation can be a real bitch, but sooner or later you just have to accept it. I'm pretty sure all of SE Asia is this way, so really I'm just preparing myself for the two months of backpacking that I'll be doing after our semester ends! Which at this point is a month away!!! And needless to say, the 24 hours that we spent in Kanchanaburi were definitely worth it.

Next stop: Khao Yai National Park!

The One With the Thai Date

Normalizing life in a place that so aggressively deviates from what my last twenty-two years have established to be the ‘status quo’ is undeniably difficult. Breaking the cast and making the unknown, known requires an indefatigable intentionality. In Thailand, I have challenged myself to enter every day with an open mind to an extent that it has become reflexive, even systematic. However, every time I think the largest hurdles are in my rearview mirror, a new discomfort or confusion arises and reminding me that my comfort zone and I are all but estranged frenemies. As I work to establish more and more common ground between my students and I, the results are comical. I sit on the ground tangled between the limbs of a gaggle of young girls. Having conversations outside of the classroom is challenging because the topics aren’t scripted. It takes work to find a subject that either my Thai vocabulary or their English vocabulary can accommodate. Today’s topic: hair. They grabbed at my locks and muddled through a slew of questions before I finally identified the vernacular speed bump – they didn’t know that stringy stuff attached to my scalp was technically hair. The event calls to mind a toddler with a Barbie in tow that I encountered in the bus station a few weeks ago. She affectionately looked down at her Barbie, swimming in a pool of her own golden mane, before noticing me. When our eyes finally locked, she looked up at me with the reverence of some dad somewhere looking at the grill section of a Target superstore. She took, what I dare call, an unprecedented quadruple take as she tried to deduce whether or not the plot of “Supersize” was manifesting itself before her very eyes. Eyes darted down to the toy, back at me, down to the toy, back at me again, with increasing concern each time. I understand, that movie is confusing enough considering the acting cameo by Tyra Banks herself, but the potential of a real life expression was too much for this small thing, who gasped and buried herself in her mother’s arms.

My own students’ reaction was far less polite. After they finally concurred that I do, in fact, grow hair from my head as opposed to straw or instant noodles, they moved on to my arms. “WHAT IS THIS?” they shrieked as they performed Indian rug burns up and down my arm – all part of their formulaic diagnosis I suppose. “It’s hair!” One of the braver ones suggests. They huddle up to fervently discuss whether or not a woman could grow arm hair. Or, more specifically, if a woman could grow arm without being Chewbacca himself. When the huddle diffused it was clear that they had not reached a unanimous supposition. The unsettled troop of tiny Thais could agree on one thing however. The brave one stepped forward again and asserted, “Teacher, I no like it” before plopping herself securely back in my lap. I guess that is my cross to bear in this life. Let’s just hope they never see my legs.

Buckle in readers, the confusion of this next anecdote renders the Great Arm Hair Incident of 2018 nearly insignificant. This is a little number I like to call: Emily goes on a date with a Thai man. Let me set the scene. My biggest fears in Thailand are not the minivan-sized insects, or the motorbike accidents, the tourist scams or even the brain decaying mosquito-transmitted diseases. No, the thoughts that provoke my cold sweats in the middle of the night are always the gym, and the technology section at our town’s Wal-Mart equivalent. In Thailand we have had to become accustomed to a certain amount of public attention in our daily lives. But the tsunami of unsolicited testosterone attached to the exacerbated gazes at these male watering holes leaves me desperate to melt into an awkward puddle and drip away. The only exposure that the people here (who seldom see tourists much less female ones) have to western women is the overtly sexualized media portrayal. White women on storefront advertisements puff out their chests and smirk beguilingly. On the packaging of skin whitening treatments, blonde women seductively stroke their desirable pale cheeks. The inundation of material objectifying an entire subset of people, while uncomfortable for me, is irreversibly damaging to the beauty standards amongst the people here. But the time for soapboxes is later, back to Emily’s exhilarating love life.

The gym is an exhausting experience where Thai meatheads with sordid intentions jeer loudly and stare assiduously. Keep in mind, this is a gym. Full of sweaty people. In Thailand. With no air-conditioning. Yet somehow the staring is more suffocating than the sweltering 92 degree heat. One day, a particularly emboldened pile of muscles with a haphazardly attached human neck and head approached our friend to inquire about us. This began to happen every time our male friend accompanied us to the gym, who would then express interest on the muscle monster’s behalves. Several nights later, in a conversation about how romantically, Thailand is directly comparable to middle school, Emily made THE mistake of her young life. She conceded that she was attracted to one of our unrelenting courters. I smelled her weakness and immediately engaged my most disarming carpe diem motivational speech (patent pending). I knew I had her, how could we culminate our time in rural Thailand without garnering the most authentic experience living in a new place has to offer – feeling ragingly uncomfortable on a date of course. The wheels were in motion the next day and our friend/wingman gave Emily’s number to her meathead of choice. Imagine the hilarity when he texts her later only to find that Emily’s Thai vocabulary is limited to about 20 words. His English vocabulary was even smaller. By smaller, I mean he knows how to say “hello”, but wouldn’t stand a chance of passing a quiz on it’s meaning. This is what nightmares are made of folks. Emily was the unsung hero of their rocky communications. She labored over the messages he sent in Thai characters and used two different translators cooperatively to compose messages back to him in his language.

After some aggressively laborious conversational mix-ups, it was decided that they would go to dinner with a translating third wheel, a man named ‘Cake’ that we recognized from the herd of gentleman callers at the gym. It was all fun and games as the puppet master, but Emily’s hot seat expanded from a single to a double when Cake entered the equation, and my fun was over. A double date. Hooray. Under the pressure of the impending outing, my cunning mind worked overtime surveying for escape routes. I sat down with Emily to deliver the news gently – the double date was a nonstarter. If all of us went, the English conversation between her, Cake and I would be inaccessible for her date, named, I shit you not, ‘Bae’. I would simply be a wrench in the connection potential, so I, being an exhaustingly heroic and selfless friend, would stay home to conveniently eat snacks and watch movies while Emily squirmed under the magnifying glass that my peer pressure had created in the first place. When the date finally arrived, Emily brazenly approached his idled truck and hopped in. “Wait, just you? Where’s your friend?” they asked as Emily texted me live updates. Sorry I can’t hear you over the reverberating shame of my Gilmore Girls binging. The date was rife with conversational breakthroughs and set-backs alike but from Emily’s re-telling of the event, Cake was a fairly reliable translator. He even reassured Emily, giggling, that he wouldn’t tell Bae what his name meant in English slang because of his crippling anxiety. Ultimately, even Bae’s nerves couldn’t extinguish his willpower to show off his white date to everyone he’s ever known. DURING the dinner he posted a selfie of him and Emily to Facebook. The post was undoubtedly the talk of the town and amassed hundreds of likes and comments. When Emily and I shamelessly trolled through the comments later, Facebook text translations yielded the mention of knives, roosters, and many, MANY ‘lols’. I can only assume it went well. Outcome disregarded, Emily’s discomfort was totally worth it for the resulting joke material. On an unrelated side note: can someone accept my friend of the year award on my behalf in case I’m not home in time for the ceremony? Thanks!

Until next time!

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The One Where I Got My Wisdom Tooth Pulled For 15 Dollars

    I have been bitching about my wisdom tooth for weeks. Just ask anyone in our office at the school and they'll tell you that it's basically all I could talk or think about at work. I'm one of those unlucky people whose wisdom teeth came in late and came in completely effing sideways.

    A few weeks into arriving in Thailand (by the way, great timing on that one God) I started the unmistakable process of cutting one of my wisdom teeth. I will never be bother by a teething baby again- that shit sucks. Leading up until the last week or so it honestly wasn't too terrible. Then the rest of the tooth came through and decided to point itself directly into my cheek and gums. I felt like I had braces all over again and as much fun as that was the first time around, I really wasn't interested in experiencing pain like that again.

    I wanted to check out the really nice looking dentist's office right across from the school. All the kids where I teach who have braces said that's where they get them. I figured they must be pretty good then. Finally after withstanding another horrible day of tooth; cheek, gum and jaw pain I decided to walk over and see what the price of getting a tooth out would be. I waited maybe 20min to see a dentist, she X-rayed the tooth and said "do you want to pull it today?" I said that depends, "how much will it cost?" She replied "500 Baht." I almost cried. 500 Baht is roughly 16 U.S. dollars. I smiled and said "let's do this."FUN FACT: the name of the clinic translated means "happiness clinic," nailed that one. 

    PSA: I am a huge, huge wimp when it comes to dentist procedures. Once when I was young I had 2 teeth pulled by a dentist who chose to ignore my cries as I was telling him I wasn't numb and could feel him ripping my tooth from my gums. So needless to say, I'm terrified of the dentist. The Thai dentist here was a phenomenal woman, who was incredibly patient, calm and comforting. She asked how I was feeling multiple times and answered all my paranoid questions without getting frustrated at all.

    The whole process was done and over in 20 minutes- including numbing me, waiting 10min for it to kick in, pulling the tooth and placing the gauze. I literally hugged this woman after it was over because it was such an easy and comfortable process. She laughed pretty hard cause Thai people don't really hug each other. I joked and told her I was going to fly back to Thailand for all my future dentistry needs. I was given extra gauze, pain medication, and directions for after care for the next few hours. The grand total came to 650 THB (20 USD).

    The process was no different than it would have been in America except that my Thai dentist actually provided better quality care than my past American dentist. I can't even think about the bill I would have received for this in the U.S.

    So anywho, that's the most excitement I've experienced in a hot minute since we aren't traveling right now in order to save money for the end of the semester to explore with. MORAL OF THE STORY: Come to Thailand to get your wisdom teeth out.

NAME OF THE CLINIC: PasoOk Dental Clinic (พาสุข เดนทอล คลินิก)

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