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22 posts categorized "*Thai Culture"

Ayutthaya to Zen

Current mindset: teach first, travel second. My number one priority in Thailand is to educate my students. Any travel I get the opportunity to do is an added bonus. These past few weeks have truly epitomized this idea. A friend and I recently joked that it is as if I lead a double life. Monday through Friday I am known as “Teacher Bryna,” a foreign teacher who travels in her free time. Over the weekend, I’m Bryna from Texas, a tourist who happens to also teach English. I am doing my best to accomplish all of my goals, even with the juxtaposition of being both a teacher and a tourist. Since my last post, I’ve been fortunate to experience many different aspects of Thailand. Here’s a look at what I’ve been up to lately, from A to Z.

A is for Ayutthaya ­– Thailand’s capital city until the 18th century when it was sacked by Myanmar (formerly Burma). Once a thriving area filled with temples and a royal palace, all that is left now is ruins. On my recent visit to Ayutthaya I was astounded by the sheer size of what remains. The stupas, or Buddhist shrines used as a place for meditation, will make anyone feel small in comparison. It almost felt eerie being there and imagining what life used to be like!
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Pictured above at the temple Wat Maha That and below at the temple Wat Phra Si Sanphet in Ayutthaya.

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B is for bats – a creature I was horrified of until last weekend when I learned how majestic they really are! During my visit to the province of Pak Chong, I watched in awe as 2 million bats migrated from underground caves into the night sky.

C is for crocodile – one of the many animals I saw up close and personal during my trek through Khao Yai, a national park in Thailand.

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Full disclosure: this picture is zoomed in... I wasn't getting too close to this guy!

D is for dogs – they’re everywhere in Thailand! At school, in the street, on the beach... everywhere!

5Pictured: some of the dogs at my school. Not pictured: literally the dozens of other dogs at my school who roam around like they own the place.

E is for elephant – specifically, the one wild elephant I saw in Khao Yai National Park. My tour guide made sure to emphasize the “wild” part. Though elephants are known as gentle giants, it is still important not to get too close.

F is for face plant – AKA what I thought would happen to me during the entire 3 hour trek in Khao Yai.

G is for Ganesha – a large reclining Ganesha (Hindu deity) is located in my province at Wat Saman Rattanaram. It is said to be the biggest in Thailand, if not the world!

6Wat Saman Rattanaram is so large, I couldn't even capture it all in one picture!

H is for hanging gibbons – not to be confused with monkeys, gibbons are actually apes that live in trees and are known for their hooting. I got the chance to see many gibbons bouncing from tree to tree in Khao Yai.

7This little guy was kind enough to pose for a photo before jumping onto the next tree.

I is for icicle – which is what I thought I would turn into in the 68 degree winter weather in Pak Chong and Khao Yai. To everyone who is living through actual freezing temperatures, I’m sorry.

J is for jam-packed – basically what every single day feels like. During the day, I lesson plan and teach. After school, I tutor conversational English and I travel on all of my days off. As someone who loves being busy, I'm really not complaining!

K is for Khao Yai – where I spent my time off last weekend. Khao Yai is Thailand’s third largest national park, as well as the first area to be established as a national park in Thailand. My weekend was filled with learning more about nature, admiring wildlife and forming special bonds with friends new and old.

8Pre-hike, post-gibbon siting.

L is for lunch crew – which consists of a group of 10th graders I serendipitously started having lunch with every Wednesday. Half of the time is spent with my students asking me questions about America, and the other half is spent with me asking them questions about proper pronunciation in Thai. I'm pretty confident each party thinks they are getting the better end of the deal! I look forward to this lunch every week. It is so rewarding to see them open up to me a little bit at a time in order to practice their conversational English.

M is for midterms – I know now that midterms are just about as fun for teachers to write as they are for students to take.

N is for night swimming – which is what happened last weekend after day 1 of my tour around Khao Yai. The water was pretty frigid (it is winter, after all) but it was refreshing to take a quick dip.

O is for outdoor classes – my latest teaching strategy when the weather is too nice to stay cooped up in a classroom. My students definitely approve.

P is for pad see ew ­– currently my favorite Thai dish.

9Pad See Ew is the opposite of "Ew."

Q is for quitting – which is never an option, especially when it comes to writing 2 exams in 48 hours.

R is for rainbow fish food ­– the multicolored Cheeto-like puffs I used to feed the fish frenzy in the Chao Phraya River in Ayutthaya.

10I'm a fan of anything rainbow... even fish food!

S is for still smiling even with a scorpion spider – on my FACE. Slightly terrifying, kinda felt ticklish, huge adrenaline rush. Trigger warning in case you have arachnophobia.

11Sorry Mom...

T is for trek – 3.8 km in length all throughout Khao Yai National Park. Definitely one of my most cherished experiences in Thailand thus far.

U is for underground caves – the place where I saw many bats, creepy crawlers and Buddha statues! Though it may come as a surprise, many monks actually visit the caves around Khao Yai to meditate.

12One of the Buddhist prayer sites within the cave.

V is for views – specifically from the Pa Deo Dai cliffs in Khao Yai. In a word: breathtaking.

13Holy Khao Yai, isn't Thailand beautiful?!

W is for waterfall ­– which is what I worked towards seeing during the trek through Khao Yai.

14The Haew Suwat waterfall is one of the most popular in the area, and for good reason.

X is for x-rated – monkey behavior, that is. Apparently the monkeys in Khao Yai mate about 20 times a day. No picture included for this letter!

Y is for yai ­– “Khao” translates to mountain and “Yai” translates to big. 

15Khao Yai is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Z is for zen ­­– I found my zen after touring for hours throughout Khao Yai, pulling over to the side of the road and watching the sunset. It was pure bliss.

16Another day in Thailand = another striking sunset.

Thailand has so much to offer and I can’t wait to keep exploring, making memories and immersing myself in this beautiful culture.

Bryna also blogs about her Teach Abroad journey at http://lifeofbryna.blogspot.com

Camping in Paradise

Another amazing weekend.

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On Saturday, I took the train to Hua Hin, a beachy town right on the gulf, and met up with the usual crew (Lauren + Steph). The weather was a little drizzly, so after looking around a bit, we stumbled upon a Western style grocery store and bought all the fixings for tacos. Back at our Airbnb, we cooked up a feast of tacos/ nachos with what we were able to find. We made the best of our hodgepodge of ingredients, and enjoyed our interesting dinner on the balcony as the sun set.

Later that night, we went to the night market in town, which was super lively and filled with stands selling our favorite Thai dessert, known as roti (sweet crepes filled with banana and egg)!

In the morning, we hopped on a bright orange bus that brought us about an hour away to a town called Pranburi.

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From Pranburi we persuaded a taxi to take us all the way to the beautiful Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. As we were nearing our destination, the mountains came into view and I was so glad that we all share the same passion for and awe of the outdoors. 

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Then we were there. We followed signs and began the 4 km hike to Laem Sala Beach and Phraya Nakhon Cave. The trail was really steep and rocky, but the views along the way made it so worth it.

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We stopped at the beach to attempt to take a cool (but poorly timed) handstand picture, and also to inquire about renting a tent for the night.

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After a quick rest we began the steep ascent to Phraya Nakhon Cave. On our way, we saw monkeys! They were swinging on the trees above our heads as we hiked up and up. Then, at the top, we hiked down into the caves. Once we made it inside, it was clear to me that this would be one of the highlights of my time in Thailand. The temple inside the cave was illuminated by the light coming through the hole overhead. Despite its remote location, the whole chamber smelled of incense.

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We sat and stared at the temple, and refueled with some snacks before heading back down to the beach. We were happy to find that the tent we had rented (for 150 baht) was already set up for us under a shady patch of trees right by the beach. For some reason, we were the only people camping that night, so we had the place all to ourselves! We kicked off our hiking shoes, headed to the park restaurant, and ended the evening on the beach, swapping stories while watching the sunset.

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The ground was hard, and we didn’t have pillows or blankets, but we managed to catch some z’s. (Side note: I’m currently reading a book about the Dytlov Pass incident, so sleeping in a tent was creeping me out a little!)

We got up early the next morning to watch the sunrise, then packed up and began our hike back to the visitors center. We were the first customers of the day, and we ate a colorful breakfast of pineapple fried rice.

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A nice lady called us a “taxi,” (actually just a teenage Thai boy with a truck), and we insisted on sitting in the back. The views on the way back to Pranburi were stunning.

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After a bus, a train and the trusty old songteow, I found myself back in Don Tum, ready to start another week of teaching.

That’s one more national park in the books, and another place checked off my bucket list.

Next stop: Khao Yai National Park!





Thanksgiving Blessings Look Different This Year

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Yesterday, I celebrated "Thanksgiving" at a woman's house whom I've never met, with a few strangers and a few new friends. We had turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and tacos. It was a day filled with both familiarity and strangeness, but when asked what I am thankful for this year in Thailand, I did not find it difficult to think of a couple things at the top of my list. So here it is: 

Being a Native English Speaker

    A few days ago, I asked my M6 students (M6 is like senior year, in America) to tell me one reason they want to learn English. Most of them said that they dreamed, one day, to travel outside of Thailand by themselves. Not just to America—to anywhere (many of them mentioned Laos, Korea, China, England, Canada). They knew they could only do this if they knew English, the world’s quickly growing #1 form of communication.

    This dream is so earnest and pure and beautiful. I think we can all empathize with this desire. They simply want to communicate, professionally and personally, with the rest of the world, of which they know only a tiny, tiny part.

    They trust English to build them a new life, even if they can’t imagine what this life is supposed to look or feel or sound like. And they trust me, their teacher, to get them there. They assume that I know best, that I am intelligent, because I am a native speaker. For them, being born a native English speaker is like being born lying on a pile of gold.

    There is nothing wrong with the Thai language. In another reality, another world, perhaps Thai would be the language taking over the world, and I would be the one struggling in the classroom because if I did not learn it, I would never have the privilege to enjoy travelling by myself as I am right now. But this is not another world. So I have learned, here in Thailand, to be incredibly thankful for the arbitrary blessing of being born to two parents who speak English as their first language.

    I have been told that, in Thailand, when you are 21-years-old you go to the store (or, you go somewhere… I think my coordinator said store, but I might have misunderstood), and you stick your hand in a basket, which contains red and white cards.

Red: You are obligated to join the army to fight for your country for two years.

White: You are not.

    This is how I am beginning to feel, in regards to my slowly growing understanding of the importance of being a native or fluent English speaker. I feel as if I have pulled a white card out of a basket. I mean, many of us (us meaning me and whoever is reading this, assuming you are from America) are in the top 7% of the world: we have a college degree (only 6.7% of the world has one), we live in America, and we are native English speakers.

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Being Paid to Live Abroad

Last week, my student Fluke stood up to describe an item that “reminded him of home.” His item was a grey nondescript sweatshirt he wears every day.

“This is my favorite item from home because it is the only birthday gift I’ve ever gotten, from my friend,” Fluke said shyly. I didn’t really understand, and, ridiculous as it is, I still felt bad (here I was, fretting that this was the only birthday gift he’d gotten this year). “No, teacher,” Fluke clarified for me. “This is the only birthday gift I’ve ever gotten.”

    Fluke and my other students have reminded me of my fortune. Some of them have no concept of the rest of the world. I showed a few of them pictures of Switzerland the other day, because they’d never heard of it. When I mention small weekend trips I’ve taken or plan on taking here in Thailand, many of them tell me, “Oh, Teacher, I’ve never been there.” Some of my students truly do not know how big to make their dreams. Nevermind leaving Thailand… some have never left this town.     

    What I am saying is, my job is the second reason I feel thankful. Because for long periods of time, I forget that I am technically getting paid to do this job, and that I am not doing it simply because it is so painfully essential that it get done, for all these students who deserve opportunities similar to mine. For me, I feel lucky to realize that my trip to Thailand, an experience I thought I was doing just to open up my own world, is really a chance to open up someone else’s.

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6-Month Time Limit

    This sounds a little ridiculous, but bear with me. I do not mean that I am thankful I only get to be in Thailand for 6 months, or that I would not be thankful for Thailand if I stayed longer. What I mean is, the time limit gives every day this sense of urgency (the thought, “If I don’t do it now, I never will,” of which many travellers are familiar). I feel pressure to say yes to every adventure. I feel pressure to explore side streets that I have not ventured down. I feel pressure to try strange foods. I feel pressure to stay out late despite exhaustion, and to wake up early to glimpse whatever it is Thai people do at 6:30 in the morning. When someone says, “Want to take a kickboxing class with me?” I do not think about all of the work I should be doing, or whether or not I will embarrass myself.

    I think, “Well… I am only here for 6 months…”

    And this is the third reason I am thankful for Thailand and it’s 6-month expiration date. This urgency dissipates when we live the same lifestyle for a long time.

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Thai’s “Work Mentality”

    This morning, by 9 o’clock, I was ready to go home and go to bed. I was tired, I had to fill out all of these stupid sheets having to do with my grading system and my syllabi for the semester for each of my classes, and everyone just kept talking all around me. And then, when I went to the refrigerator, we were out of water, and I felt incredibly dehydrated. I turned to my friend Teacher Ying and, barely capable of not snapping at her, said, “Teacher Ying, where can I get more water?”

    “Hmm, shoot. I will have to go get some more down the street,” she said. She looked up at the ceiling and then her face brightened. “There is a coffee shop near there. Want to come with me and I will take you there?”

“Yes!” I could not say yes fast enough. I wanted out of this fluorescent office, of these people talking all around me, of these stupid sheets I’d been filling out for three days.

    So I went to this cute coffee shop with her and ordered a very delicious, very American-tasting iced coffee and a cake (because why not?). When we got back to the office, I’d barely sat down when a teacher I work with asked me, “Caroline, want to come get lunch with us? We’re going to sit outside and get chicken and sticky rice from a restaurant down the road.”

    So I went with them, and ate chicken, and learned about these porcelain dolls in Thailand that people sometimes try to put spirits into (illegally, by stealing corpses, which is a whole other topic… Google it). These dolls are supposed to bring you good luck as long as you don’t forget to feed them (like your children).

    After lunch, Teacher Ying asked if I wanted to go to the mall, so I went with her and played Dance-Dance-Revolution in an arcade. My 1-hour lunch break turned into 3-hours. When I returned to the office around 3 p.m., my director said, “Okay, that’s enough working, everyone can go home early today.”

    This is one other thing I am thankful for, here in Thailand. Just when you are ready to explode because everything is feeling frustrating and mundane and stifling, you realize that YOU are the only one who is making it feel this way. All of my other coworkers understand Thailand’s work mentality (one which I think should be adopted everywhere). Luckily, they are slowly teaching me: you do what you feel capable of doing that day, and then you take the rest of the day off to play arcade games at the mall and discuss porcelain dolls at a chicken shop. This is not to say that they do not work incredibly hard—they do. It is just to say: they know when to take a deep breath, push their chairs back away from their desks, and say, “Okay, enough.” They know the importance of spontaneity. I do not know if I have ever learned this, back in America. I am thankful for the chance to learn it now.

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Temples & Tuk Tuks

This weekend was awesome. On Saturday I woke up before the sun and hitched a ride on a songteow headed to Nakhon Pathom. From there I took the all too familiar bus straight to Bangkok to meet up with Lauren. Then we were all set to depart for Ayutthaya, which is only about an hour North of Bangkok! One taxi and one (very crowded) van ride later, we had arrived. Traveling is getting way easier as I’m learning my way around… And it doesn’t hurt to have amazing coworkers to draw you maps before every trip!

Unfortunately, our third musketeer (Steph) had gotten really sick last week and had to miss out on the temple-ing. Steve, (who was meeting us in Ayutthaya but had gotten there the day before), also came down with a nasty bug right before we got there. Summed up in one sentence: extreme food poisoning in a hostel with no A/C and a shared bathroom! (Check out ShutupSteve.com for a good laugh).

Anyway, Lauren and I checked up on Steve, got a room at a hostel (Tony’s), and rented bikes for the day! There were too many temples and ruins to count. The city of Ayutthaya was, at one point, the second Siamese capital after Sukhothai. It was destroyed by the Burmese in the 18th century. All that remains of the old city are ruins and temples, and it seems like you can feel the air change as you enter the sacred spaces. Here are some highlights…

1. Ayutthaya Historical Park – Larger than life temples!

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2. Wat Maha That – The famous Buddha head engulfed in tree roots. Nobody knows how it got there, but there are a few theories.

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3. Wat Ratchaburana – We got to climb to the top from inside! Steep & a little claustrophobic but worth it.

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4. Wat Lokayasutharam (aka a giant reclining Buddha) – Definitely awe-inspiring. We lit some incense and left a few flowers as an offering.

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5. Wat Chaiwatthanaram at sunset –We met up with a two other gals from our program that evening. The five of us caught an amazing sunset, which led to many OMG-I’m-actually-in-Thailand moments.

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That night we headed back to Soi 2 (the street our hostel was on, very popular with backpackers!) and grabbed dinner/ dessert at a local restaurant. After that, we got hour-long Thai massages on an outdoor loft overlooking a music venue, and listened to acoustic renditions of Western music. In such a foreign place it’s always comforting to hear familiar music. It was so relaxing, in fact, that Lauren and I both fell asleep during our massages, and our Thai masseuses thought it was hilarious. 

The next morning we woke up early and had – dare I say it – the best breakfast I’ve had in Thailand. I know, I say that about every meal, but I’ve been missing real coffee so much. Here, everybody drinks instant (powdered) coffee, and it’s rare to find espresso! So I was in heaven eating my local fresh fruit with yogurt/ granola, and real coffee on the side. 

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We visited a few more beautiful temples after that, and beat all the crowds. Eventually we caught a van back to Bangkok and made a pitstop at Chatuchak Weekend Market. I think that’s becoming one of our favorite places, especially since it’s located right off the Mo Chit sky train station. We had a delicious lunch of garlic chicken on rice.

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But the weekend wouldn’t be complete without, you guessed it – coconut ice cream. This time I tried coconut with Thai iced tea flavor, plus sticky rice (obviously). 

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I can’t help but feel so lucky to be here and to experience this culture, history, food, and of course the amazing people. Everybody I’ve met on my travels is so helpful and patient with me when I ask for directions in incomprehensible Thai, and for that I am eternally grateful! They make it not-so-scary to travel solo. As Cheryl Strayed put it, “The world and its people had opened their arms to me at every turn.”

Next stop: Phuket! 

See more at thaiandstopmenow.wordpress.com 




Getting in the Groove

After one month of living and working in Thailand, it is finally sinking in that this is my reality now! There are a lot of “new normals” in my life, such as eating with a spoon in my right hand and a fork in my left, carrying an umbrella wherever I go (just in case!) and remembering to always apply bug spray. I’m definitely still adjusting, but I think each day I am making progress. I am doing my best to not only learn about Thai culture, but also to learn to appreciate Thai culture.

I recently visited the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (also known as Wat Phra Kaew, Wat meaning “temple” in Thai). I didn’t do my research before visiting (…oops) so I was surprised to learn the Grand Palace actually isn’t just one building. Instead, it is a complex made up of various buildings and temples. Though the Grand Palace has been the official residence of the Royal Family for over 200 years, they don’t spend much of their time there anymore. The grounds are now mainly used for various events such as coronations and official ceremonies. This is a historically significant time to visit the Grand Palace because the renowned King of Thailand passed away last month. Since his passing, Thais from across the country have been traveling to the Grand Palace to mourn King Rama IX. While I walked around the grounds, there were hundreds of people in line waiting to pay their respects to the Royal Family. It was incredible to see how much King Rama IX touched the lives of the people of Thailand.

The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is one of the most notable sights at the Grand Palace. The name is a bit misleading; since monks do not live there, it is technically a chapel, not a temple. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is unbelievably ornate, designed with intricate patterns and filled with gold and gems from floor to ceiling. As I was walking around, I felt like I had stepped inside of a jewelry box! It was quite the juxtaposition to witness this attraction during the mourning period in Thailand.

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Seated at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha - one of the most beautiful sights I've seen so far!

From the Grand Palace, I walked to Khao San Road, a lively street in Bangkok (part of the Banana Pancake Trail) known for its shopping and other tourist attractions that are popular with Westerners. I took part in one of these attractions – a fish pedicure! I paid less than $5 to put my feet in a pool of live fish for 15 minutes in the hope that they would eat the dead skin off of my feet. Admittedly, it was just about as gross as it sounds and I basically paid to have a 15-minute anxiety attack. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (and maybe fishier?) so now I can check this off of my to-do list!

After taking 6 modes of transportation, I finally made it back home from Bangkok! I continued teaching throughout the week before visiting the Ban Mai Riverside market. “Riverside” is in reference to the Bang Pakong River, which winds through my home province, Chachoengsao. This market serves many traditional delicacies, most of which I tasted. My palette definitely approved!

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The view from Ban Mai did not disappoint! 

From the market, I traveled to a local farm where I had the unique opportunity to plant rice in a marsh. Keep in mind, the target age group of this farm is about 3-5 years old, but I had a blast getting in the mud and planting my crops. It definitely gave me a new appreciation for rice – it’s a backbreaking job!

There are markets everywhere in Thailand and one even opened on the street I live on for a few days. The neighborhood completely transformed from empty sidewalks and streets filled with motorcycles to vendors selling kebabs, popcorn, and smoothies among hundreds of other food items. Least appetizing of them all (for me, at least) was the table with fried bugs. Still working on getting past my fear of all things creepy crawly!

Last week I celebrated the festival Loy Krathong, which means, “to float a basket.” This festival is significant because it is a time to pay respect to rivers, as well as make wishes for the upcoming year. Loy Krathong is observed during the full moon of the 12th lunar month, which just so happened to be a super moon this year! In preparation for the festival I handcrafted a krathong, a small buoyant basket. I decorated my krathong with banana leaves and a variety of flowers, finally topping it off with a candle.

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My handmade Krathong!

After decorating my krathong, I traveled to the Bang Pakong River. In my free time I visit an English class for young children (which is beyond cute) and the families from class were so kind as to invite me to join them at the river. It was such an honor to celebrate Loy Krathong with all of my new Thai friends!

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My Thai family (pictured above) and moments before I placed my Krathong in the river to float away (below).

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Even though I will be 13 time zones away from my family this Thanksgiving, I am still thinking of how much I have to be grateful for – specifically, my mom’s voice of reason. I’m going through a huge transition in my life right now and I am faced with challenges I never could have anticipated. She is a great sounding board and I feel so fortunate to have a strong support system, both at home and abroad. With the help of my family in America and my adopted family in Thailand, I am confident I will get in the groove of things soon.

Bryna also blogs about her Teach Abroad journey at http://lifeofbryna.blogspot.com

Life in a Thai School

Hello again!

This weekend’s adventures led me to Bangkok, where I met up with my travel squad. We explored the legendary Khao San road, revisited the Chatuchak Weekend Market, and visited colorful Chinatown. On my journey home, I found myself reflecting on the similarities and differences that I’ve noticed between Thailand and the US, and how my Thai school compares to schools in the states.

Background information: My Thai school is a small, private, Christian school for grades Kinder through Eighth. We’re located in a little town called Don Tum, about 30 minutes north of Nakhon Pathom.

School is a truly positive place for Thai students, or at least my school is. I can tell because the kids run around with huge smiles on their faces before school and in between classes, and often voluntarily stay late to practice musical instruments, get tutored or just hang with friends. They are so playful and love joking around with their teachers. They have much more unstructured time than students in the US. Personally, I think this is awesome because it allows them to learn how to entertain and take care of themselves. Oh, and they care about their campus! Each grade is assigned an area and the students get there early and stay late to sweep and clean their areas.

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The school gives them responsibility, holds them to high standards, and most importantly, gives students the space they need to play and grow.

Something else that stands out to me is the reverence that the Thai students and staff hold for tradition. We have our holidays in the states, but never has an American school day been cancelled so that students could intricately craft floating arrangements of banana leaves and orchids.

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Let me backtrack. Yesterday was the festival of Loi Krathong. This Thai holiday is determined by the lunar calendar, and this year it coincided with the Super Moon. I barely noticed the moon during Loi Krathong, as the floating flowers stole the show. The Thai people build these incredibly elaborate arrangements and float them down the nearest river, as a sort of thank you to their water sources. It’s also a time to let go of negativity and petition the universe for good luck!

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I was fortunate enough to be able to make my own Krathong (thanks Teacher Mildred!), even though mine totally paled in comparison to the students’ work. We had the afternoon to work on our creations. Their technique and ingenuity totally blew my mind.

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I mean, come on. These are works of art. How each and every Thai student inherited these insane creativity and craftsmanship genes is beyond me.

That night, my coworkers and I walked to Wat Samngam, lit our krathongs, and floated them away.

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As I watched my flowers drift off with all the others, I felt so lucky to be part of my new community.

See more at https://thaiandstopmenow.wordpress.com/

Will Work for Travel

My first week of teaching was a blur of big smiles, trial and error lesson planning and a million students greeting me each passing period with “hello teacha!” It was awesome and stressful and incredibly eye opening. By Friday, I was so ready for an adventure! 

Traveling in Thailand is very different from traveling in the US. Back in the states, if I wanted to go somewhere I’d research online a little, buy a plane ticket or use google maps to drive there. Easy! In Thailand, however, I quickly found out that planning for travel is much more complicated (but that much more rewarding)! After realizing that googling train times and bus schedules was absolutely pointless, I turned to my local coworkers for advice. I got about a dozen different suggestions and kind of just rolled the dice and picked what seemed to be the simplest route.

I ended up hitching a ride on a songteow into Nakhon Pathom early Saturday AM, where I had a few hours to wander and explore on my own before meeting up with Lauren at the train station. From there we rode the train to Kanchanaburi, got on another songteow, miraculously met up with Steph & Mikayla, hopped on a (very crowded) bus to Erawan park, then jumped into the back of a truck to get to our home for the weekend.

We stayed at an Airbnb at Shanti Farm, where Mr. Hey and his wife put us up in an adorable bungalow and made us an incredible dinner (fresh homegrown pumpkin and tofu pad Thai!) and breakfast (eggs and bananas from the farm & French toast).

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On Saturday night we got to explore the Prathat caves, and they didn’t disappoint. They were massive inside, and I only felt claustrophobic when we had to duck and squeeze through the initial opening in the rocks. Our guide did us a solid and didn’t shine his lantern on the thousands of bats until the end of the tour.

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That night we slept two to a bed under one big mosquito net. It felt like a mix of slumber party and camp out. It’s crazy how quickly travel and shared experiences can create friendships. We woke up before the sun the next morning, and made our way to Erawan Falls.

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We hiked straight up to the top, and didn’t let ourselves jump in till the seventh fall. The seven waterfalls were so beautiful that the pictures don’t do them justice. On the way down we swam in the crystal blue water, got “fish pedicures,” and slid down a natural water slide.

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And that’s one national park off my bucket list! Relying on word of mouth while traveling is frustrating and liberating at the same time. Surprisingly, letting go of some control felt good. It also felt so cool knowing that I had literally everything I needed in my backpack, and that I was able to successfully go from point A to point B in a foreign country.

Less than three weeks ago, the four of us were in the US, wondering how we would make friends, if we were going to be okay, and worrying about what it would be like here in Thailand. If I could go back and tell myself one thing, I would tell myself that everything’s easier than you think! Oh, and maybe also to bring towels and granola bars. 

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Next up: Loi Krathong in Bangkok this weekend!

See more at https://thaiandstopmenow.wordpress.com/ 

 

Teachin' & Beachin'

Imagine this: it’s my first day of school as “Teacher Bryna.” I find the room I’m supposed to be in for the class period… or so I think. The instant I walk in, 50 middle-school aged students walk out. They avoid eye contact with me, duck their heads and make a quick exit. At first I was stunned because I thought I was the victim of a practical joke they were playing on me. Then I was confused because I wasn’t sure if I was even in the right building. I begged them to stay and tried to herd them back into the classroom. No luck.

Finally, one sweet girl came up to me and did her best to explain that they were in the wrong classroom and the correct class would be arriving shortly. Miraculously, I was in the right place. The only thing I was a victim of was the concept of “Thai time,” meaning the timing of the day was running slightly off schedule.

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First day of school as "Teacher Bryna"

Sure enough, a few minutes later 50 tenth-graders (referred to as Mathayom 4 in Thailand) filed into the classroom. I thought it would be smooth sailing now that I corralled in the correct group of kids. Once again, I had no such luck. Every class I met on my first day of school was full of energy. Though it was exciting to have students so eager to meet me, I quickly noticed they were far more intrigued by if I had a boyfriend or if they could take a selfie with me than they were interested in learning about synonyms and antonyms.

Thankfully, each day I am adjusting more to my Thai school. The difference between the American and Thai education systems has definitely caused me some culture shock. In Thailand the classes have less structure, larger class sizes and a noise level that cannot be rivaled by American schools. Yet, there is an enthusiasm I see in my classrooms that I’ve never experienced in the U.S. (You haven't seen pure joy until you've witnessed 50 Thai students realize the answer during a game of hangman is "Justin Bieber.") Though teaching in Chachoengsao is challenging, I already feel myself making progress. At this point, I am taking it day by day, class by class and hoping that I can build a rapport with each student.

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One of the best meals I've had in Thailand - all for the price of 20 baht, or about 60 cents!

While I am trying to get Thai students to trust me, I am also learning to trust Thai people. Throughout my first few weeks in Thailand, I have faced many challenges that have made me feel vulnerable at times. Instead of approaching these situations with frustration and angst, I focus on gratitude. Countless locals have guided me while I learned about public transportation, policies at my school and what to expect at local markets. It was nerve-wracking to put my trust in these people I barely knew. Although at first I thought people were trying to lead me astray, I soon realized they legitimately want to see me succeed. I hope that I am expanding my intercultural knowledge and communication skills by suspending my judgment and listening to what people tell me before I make decisions. I believe this process will help subside my culture shock and ease my transition into daily life in Thailand.

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The beautiful temple of Wat Sothon located in my province. I wouldn't have made it without the help of many locals!

After a tiresome first week of school, the only solution was a trip to Ko Samet for a day at the beach. Ko Samet (Ko means island in Thai) is located in the eastern region of Thailand, near the hub city of Rayong. Getting to the island was a challenge in it of itself because it required a 4-hour drive in a jam-packed mini bus, a trip on a songthaew (a combination between a taxi and a pickup truck, essentially) and a ferry ride. An overnight stay near the ferry pier allowed my roommate and I to head from Ban Phe to Ko Samet first thing Saturday morning. After we secured a hostel (another challenge/learning experience/personal win), we walked through the Mu Ko Samet National Park entrance and eventually stumbled upon Sai Kaew beach. From then on, our day included lounging in the sand, swimming in the Gulf of Thailand and eating mango sticky rice with coconut milk. The only unfortunate thing about spending the entire day at the beach is that I now resemble some combination of Elmo and Rudolph. Lesson learned: reapply sunscreen!

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Ko Samet was nearly deserted, which allowed for ample swim and sunbathing time!

I am still learning new things everyday to better understand this country. (For instance, Thailand is BYOTP: bring your own toilet paper.) This week, I have a day off from school so I plan to go into Bangkok and see more of the city. There are so many things to do in this country and I am trying to make the most of every moment! I am eager to explore this nation that I now call home. I just hope my sunburn heals first!

Bryna also blogs about her Teach Abroad journey at http://lifeofbryna.blogspot.com

My First Week in Thailand

Sawatdee-kha (Hello)!

Welcome to my blog. I've only been in Thailand for one whole week now, but I have already learned a lot. This past week has been a crash course in everything Thai.

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My journey began when I touched down in Tokyo, where I was able to meet up with Stephanie & Pa Ger via the CIEE Facebook group. I thought that we would just fly to Bangkok and ride to the hotel together, but they quickly became my "orientation BFFs".

We had one day to adventure on our own, and we totally took advantage of it. In Bangkok, we took a taxi to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, Thailand's busiest and largest outdoor market. We ate fresh coconut ice cream and had our first authentic Thai meal. Then we hitched a ride on a tuk tuk and made our way onto a private little boat to explore the Chao Phraya river and its canals. For the next five days of orientation, we took classes about the Thai language, classroom management and Thai culture.

At the end of the week, we took an overnight trip to Kanchanaburi. I got to see mountains and greenery and have dinner while floating on a raft down the Kwai River.

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Here are a few crucial things I learned in the past week, in no particular order:

1. I'm not in this alone. At my orientation, there were over 150 other teachers. Everybody had the same mindset, and I wish I had known that making friends would be so incredibly easy. It was comforting for me to be in the same place as 150 other people who had quit their jobs, moved out of their houses and said goodbye to their friends and family to set off on this adventure just like me.
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2. There are a million ways to get around. Boat, tuk tuk, taxi, elephants, you name it. Drivers here are totally insane, and every time I'm riding in a car I'm scared for my life.

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3. Seat belts and other safety measures are just a suggestion.

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4. It's only a little bit scary to attempt to speak Thai to the locals. Even when I butcher every single word, they smile and appreciate the effort... or just laugh at me. The language is totally intimidating at first, but after taking a few lessons during orientation, I can almost hold a casual conversation, as long as it doesn't go beyond "How are you?" and "What is your name?"

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5. My favorite word is "Na Rak." It means cute, and it's the perfect word to use when referring to the many dogs and cats you see on the streets.

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6. Breakfast food is essentially lunch or dinner food. This was a surprise to me... and it is taking some getting used to.

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7. Coconut is EVERYWHERE and it is amazing. Coconut ice cream, coconut pudding, coconut everything.

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8. Thai people are super welcoming. Yesterday, I was greeted in Bangkok by my school's computer teacher, and taken to my house in Don Tum, Nakhon Pathom. When we got there, a bunch of Thai and Filipino teachers were waiting for me. Luckily, a few of them can speak amazing English. After taking me to dinner, two of them came over to my house and we talked for hours. I immediately felt at home. Even though I am an hour away from any of the other English teachers in my program, I don't feel isolated at all.

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This is the beginning of a very big adventure. I'm totally nervous for Monday, which will be my first day of teaching. My director at the school (who woke me up this morning and insisted on meeting with me right then, pajamas and all) informed me that I'll be teaching 1st-5th graders, four classes per day. I'll also be the captain of an intramural sports team (I requested purple team). Apparently I'm also expected to sing in the choir. She also stressed to me that I was chosen because of my background in Art, and that they would really like me to incorporate art projects into my English lesson plans, which I will so gladly do.

Right now, I'm sitting in a coffee shop in my little town by myself, and I just successfully ordered an iced green tea. It's funny that doing this in the US would feel totally normal, but right now it feels like a massive accomplishment. Baby steps!

See more at https://thaiandstopmenow.wordpress.com/ 

 

5 People Everyone Should Know

I have only been in my province, Sakon Nakhon, for 6 days now, so I don't feel quite qualified enough to talk about what it is like to live in Thailand yet, or which are the best waterfalls to visit, or which temples can change your life, or anything else related to Thai culture. But, having been here for 6 days now, I do think I am somewhat qualified to write about 5 people I have encountered in my province, and why I think they are all worth writing about. 

1. The Thai man who owns my apartment building: Although I’ve slightly adjusted to my first experience living alone, sometimes it makes me sad. It is hard, however, to feel lonely here, thanks to the owner of this building. He is an old Thai man who might be my favorite person here. He is so petite that all his clothes practically hang off of him, and he has this wide grin. Whenever he sees me he follows me to my door just to hang around outside of it and practice speaking English, of which he knows only a few words. So he will say, “How are you?” and then I will practice responding in Thai, and he will say, “Yes, we will teach each other!” And then he gets excited and laughs to himself. 

    On Sunday he knocked at my door at 9 p.m. with a blue plastic chair for me and said, “For you. Also… I come… fix,” he paused and pointed at my dresser, which has a drawer that is loose, “tomorrow.”            

    “Great!” I said, and then grabbed my Google translator and typed in: mosquito netting. I pointed the phone at him. “Do I need one of these?”

    He peered at it and then said, “Ah!” and left. I closed the door. Ten minutes later he was back with his own personal bug spray. He handed it to me and said, “Use this.” Then he just smiled at me until I said, “Okay, well, goodnight.” He liked that word a lot, and repeated it a few times: Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.

     Tonight, he drove me to my first exercise class in the province. I asked him for the number of a taxi company; he told me, "No. I take you." I feel like he is looking out for me here, and I also feel that he is not the only person with this level of selflessness in Thailand--many people are like him here. They do not want to do you only a small favor when they can do a large one. He sat on the couch and waited until I finished the exercise class, despite my assurances that he could leave and I would get home fine. Then he said, "You hungry?" And drove me to the 7-11, helped me pick out a spaghetti meal for dinner, and asked the 7-11 clerk to heat it up for me. All this, and he knows maybe 7 English words.

2. My student, a girl named Oom: On my first day, a student found me at my desk and asked if I would eat lunch with her and her friend Fluke. I sat with her and asked questions in English and she spoke back respectfully and excitedly. She told me she is so happy I am here because now she can practice her English. 

Ever since then, Oom comes straight to my desk at noon and says, “Let’s go to lunch, Teacher!” Sometimes, her friends join us. When they speak in Thai, she says, "No, let's try to speak in English, so Teacher Caroline understands." She walks with me around the cafeteria as I point at different foods and say, "What is that? Spicy?" And, not only does she answer me patiently, but she translates my order to the cafeteria lady, so I have not needed to learn any Thai words (a good thing and a bad, considering I cannot carry Oom with me everywhere I go). 

She wants to be an English teacher and an exchange student in America. She is so passionate about learning English that she found this school on her own and now travels three hours a day to get to the school and to go home. This means she wakes up at 5 a.m. and gets home around 7:30. And yet, she is so patient and considerate with me. When I'm finished eating, she always says, "Okay, Teacher? You want ice cream?" 

3. Another one of my students, Fluke: The sweetest looking 15-year-old boy, who is not only incredibly responsible and respectful (voted leader of his class, and the one who always quiets the others), but also, he often sits with myself and Oom at lunch, despite any deduction in "cool points" this might cause for him.

Yesterday, I said, “Oh, it’s so nice out today! I love the sun!” when we were walking outside to the cafeteria. Fluke turns to me and says, “I hate the sun. Too hot.” After I ordered my food, I found Fluke and said, “Where are we sitting?” And he said, “I picked a table near the sun for you, since you like it so much, even though it is too hot,” and then he gave me this shy little smile. 

4. My coordinator (the Thai teacher basically responsible for my adjustment as a teacher and as a foreigner in my province): Every night he picks me and the other American up for dinner and takes us to new places because, as he says, “I want to give you options so you know where to go on your own.” He is like a parent. He takes me to the store to buy cleaning supplies and food and shampoo and to the pharmacy and shows me the “American” tasting coffee shops (there is exactly two in this area, and they’re a little far, so I can’t get there Monday-Friday. During the week, instead, I drink orange tea with condensed milk from the school cafeteria because it is my only option). He translates for me and makes promises like, “this weekend, I show you hiking spot!” and “I will talk with my hospital friend to see if you need malaria shots.” Also, today he offered to go with me tomorrow to the Songtaew stop (like a pick-up truck that acts as a bus), and to speak with the driver to get the schedule for me, although, as he warned me: “Thailand is underdeveloped, not like Japan or America. So there is no schedule. It comes when it wants to come. So, every day is adventure!” Truly, I would be lost in this country without him. 

5. The Phillipino women I work with: Although not at all interchangeable, I put them in the same "category" because I do not know them well individually yet, and also because they have all been equally kind and inclusive with me. Although they are foreigners and share a native language, they speak English when I am around so I can be included. They ask a lot of questions, and a few nights ago they invited me to go shopping and to have dinner with them. They've also already invited me to their house to cook me Phillipino food, and have even offered to give me one of their bikes because one teacher assured me, "I don't know how to ride it, anyway."

    They are incredibly inclusive and welcoming and laugh a lot, even in the office, and step away from their desks whenever students ask to play games with them. Last night they took me to the market because they wanted to show me where to get fruits and vegetables as well as the “greatest pad thai in Sakon Nakhon,” and on the way back they continued to mention all the survival tips they’ve come up with since living in Sakon Nakhon. They even walked with me to the pharmacy because they wanted to help me translate “aspirin,” even though they don’t know any more Thai than I do. The four of us stood together at the counter anyway, pointing to our heads and saying the word slowly, “as-pir-IN,” as if this is all that is needed for translation.

And today, because they knew I wanted to find a gym, they coerced a few older students to show us the gym at the university, and then we sat at a table and each ordered a different dessert from a bakery, passing them around and sharing them with each other. Some of them, I've heard, have kids and husbands in different places. You would never know this from our interactions. They are so entirely present and here with me in this moment, and so warm, and so willing to make these experiences feel a little more like home for me. 

Basically, what I am saying is, beaches and national parks and waterfalls are not the only places beauty can be found in Thailand. 

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