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36 posts categorized "*Traveling around Thailand"

The One With The Motorbike Accident

    It was a simple left hand turn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Reasons

I've been in Thailand for almost 4 months now. Everything about it has been a wild experience (some great, and some not so great). Although I am supposed to go home next month, I have decided to push my return date back until (at least) April. 

Why?

1) My students

First and foremost, my students are the reason that I am extending my stay here. They are the light of my life. There are few things that I enjoy more than  walking into the classroom or to the cafeteria or even home for the day and seeing their smiling faces. I have begun to develop relationships and even inside jokes with a number of them. And yes, while they can be annoying and noisy at times, the times that they've made me laugh far outweigh the times they have made me angry.

The young men (and few young women) that I teach are my heart, my soul, and the number one reason I'm staying in Thailand. 

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2) The relaxed, "mai pen rai" lifestyle. 

Being in Thailand has made me realize how far too often Americans worry about things that are unnecessary. We worry about things that are beyond our control or blow things out of proportion.

This lifestyle can be difficult to understand unless you experience it. 

One night a few of us were getting dinner at the town next to us. While we were walking down the sidewalk, we saw a baby taking a  bath in a little bucket on the sidewalk. It was an adorable sight. We started taking pictures. That's when the mother walked up and asked us about our lives, where we're from, what we're doing here, etc. When we went to leave, she leaned down next to her baby, grabbed his hand, and made a waving motion at us as if to say bye. 

As we were walking away, we realized that no parent would EVER have let us say hi to their baby back home. We would've gotten the cops called on us. But here, the parents know when something is harmless and when something is a cause for concern.

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**also the children here are out of this world cute

3) There's no rush in settling down.

Before I came here, I felt unfulfilled. Almost everyone I knew was getting prepared to start their full-time job and move to a city that they might never leave. Was I making a mistake not following suit? After being here, I have realized that there is plenty of time to get a job and settle down. What's the rush? This is the perfect time in my life to try a new adventure. Even if I found that it wasn't for me, it would've been a great learning experience. 

4) I am constantly exploring new, beautiful, exciting places.

One weekend I'm exploring ancient ruins the next I'm climbing a mountain; the possibilities of this country are absolutely endless. Traveling around Thailand is so easy and offers so much more than any other country I've been to thus far. Thailand is such a diverse country with a deep cultural history. Whether it's near or far, there's always somewhere breathtaking to discover.

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5) I've made amazing friends and have started to establish my life here.

My friends that I have made here are some of the best people I have ever met. We share a bond over this incredible adventure that we're all on together. But I've also been able to make some Thai friends. Friends that can show me around my town and give me a deeper insight into their culture. 

Additionally, I have joined a gym, decorated my apartment, and have begun to make this town feel like home. At the end of the weekend, no matter where I am, I'm always eager to get back to my apartment. It may have a hard bed and no hot water, but it is my space. I have began to establish my life here. 

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Sometimes it is still hard to believe that this is my life. I am beyond blessed to have this opportunity and to have loved it as much as I have. 

By staying here, I'm not putting off real life or running away from anything; I'm finding my purpose.

Want to see more pictures from my adventures abroad? Follow me on Instagram!

@pinnella_ice

Sand In Our Hair

About 6 weeks ago, I pulled a bonehead move and booked the wrong flight for a long weekend to Chiang Mai. Since I couldn't get a refund, I just rerouted my flight for a different weekend. The weekend finally came and I was on my way to Phuket. 

After sleeping in the airport to catch our 7am flight from Bangkok, we finally landed in Phuket around 8:15am. We were able to get a van directly to our hotel in Patong for 180 baht each. It was about an hour long ride from the airport to Sukcheewa Place (the hotel we were staying at). A private room with a double bed ran us 600 baht total. Man, was it worth it. It was a beautiful room with AC, hot water, free (amazing) breakfast, and very good location. 

Once we got to the hotel, we ate breakfast, changed into our bathing suits, and headed to a place called Freedom Beach. When we mapped it, it said it was only about 2 miles away. We didn't mind walking! After all, we had been sitting in airports for the past 12 hours. Little did we know, it was uphill the entire way. The majority of the journey was on a backroad with small houses few and far between. When we were about halfway up, a Thai man called out to us. He offered us a ride to the beach for 100 baht. At that point, we were so exhausted we decided to say yes. We started talking to the man, who also offered us bananas from his garden. His name was Yew. He went on and on about how badly he wants to visit America and how he would love to help us in any way that he can. He was one of the nicest people I have ever met. 

After some time talking to Yew, he took us in his old truck to the entrance of Freedom Beach. Because it is a privately owned beach, we each had to pay 200 baht to go. It turns out that the 2 miles we walked uphill went back to sea level in about a half a mile; it was a walk straight downhill through the jungle. They even had a rope for us to hold on to so we didn't fall. 

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The beach was gorgeous. Turquoise water and plush white sand with rocks and mountains surrounding it. 

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One downside is that there weren't any chairs that you could rent like on other Thai beaches. So Deanna and I decided to lay down right in the surf. It was a good idea until sand got into my one piece. 

After about 3 hours, we decided to leave. 

When we passed Yew's house again, he gave us water and more bananas from his garden. We sat down for a good 30 minutes and talked to him about his life on Phuket. He even showed us his 7th place trophy from a race he ran the weekend before. He then drove us back to our hotel for 200 baht. 

After he dropped us off, he offered to take us to the airport the next day for 300 baht. We accepted. 

We then went back to our hotel room, rinsed the sand off, changed bathing suits, and headed to Patong Beach, only a 5 minute walk away (and luckily on flat ground). Unfortunately, the chair rental places were only open until 5pm so we only had an hour to enjoy them. We paid 100 baht and took full advantage of that hour. 

After returning to our hotel that night, we showered, napped, and then headed to dinner. After dinner, we went to Bangla Road, the road infamous in Phuket for its nightlife. We walked up and down the street and then headed back to the hotel. We were too tired and poor to completely enjoy it. 

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The next morning, we woke up and enjoyed our free breakfast at the hotel. We then packed up our stuff, stored it in the lobby, and were on our way to Patong Beach. 

We found chairs a little further down the beach, away from all the people. We stayed at the beach playing in the ocean, basking in the sun, and enjoying some brews from 10:30 until 4pm. 

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Towards the end of our day at the beach, we noticed something in the water. It was one of the young Thai men who rented the chairs to us playing in the ocean with either his little brother or his son. They were having so much fun together it made my heart melt with happiness. 

Later when we went into the ocean, the young man began talking to us about our time here. People here are so friendly and eager to learn about different cultures. It is such a refreshing feeling. 

We changed, picked up our stuff, and called Yew to head to the airport. 

We got back to Bangkok around 12:30pm. At that point, I went straight to the Ekkamai bus station to wait for the 4:30am van. I got back to my apartment around 6am to an ant infestation in my bathroom. I took care of that, took a shower, then went straight to school; it was back to reality. 

Want to see more pictures from my adventures abroad? Follow me on Instagram!

@pinnella_ice

A Weekend in the (Phetcha)boonies

This weekend was one of our three long weekends that we have this semester. Where to go...the islands? Too expensive. Chiang Mai? Been there done that. How about some camping and trekking in Phetchabun

Laura, Deanna, and I set off for our weekend adventure at 4:45am on Friday. We caught the first bus to Bangkok from Chonburi. Once we were in Chonburi, we caught the 11am bus to Lom Sak (we wanted the 9am bus but it was full). Once we were in Lom Sak, we caught a bus to Nom Nao National Park. Once we were at Nam Nao Park, we got a ride in the back of a truck to the campground. And finally, at 9pm, 16 hours after our initial departure, we arrived at our destination of Nam Nao National Park.

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Unfortunately, once we got to the campsite it was dark out. We were having a difficult time setting up the tent that we rented. Seeing us struggle, one of the campers near us asked if we wanted help. Of course we wouldn't turn down an extra set of hands. As soon as we said yes, 6 other people came and helped (when I say helped I mean they set it up for us). They asked us how long we've been in Thailand, why we're here, etc, etc. After about 10 minutes, they had it all set up, including our sleeping bags laid out inside the tent. We thanked them and they went back to their tents. 

Thai people really are the best people on this planet. They are so nice, helpful, and eager to learn about your culture. 

The next morning, we woke up at 5am. We wanted to go to a place in the park called the Sunrise Viewpoint. Unfortunately, we didn't wake up quite early enough so we didn't make it for the sunrise. However, we still trekked the 3ish miles to the viewpoint. We might not have seen the sunrise, but the view was far from disappointing. You could see the fog rising over the lush green mountains. Pictures don't even come close to doing it justice. 

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After spending some time at the viewpoint, we decided to walk to a cave that we saw was nearby. It was only about 8 kilometers from the viewpoint so we figured we would walk along the main street to the cave. After about 4 kilometers, we got tired and lost so we decided to hitch a ride in the back of a truck to the cave. 

The man dropped us off at the Sunset Viewpoint. However, according to the map we saw it was still about 2 more kilometers away. The man seemed confused when he picked us up, so we figured he misunderstood where we wanted to go (that tends to happen when you speak two completely different languages). We kept walking and walking. Finally, after 30 minutes of walking and still not seeing any signs for the cave, we decided to map it. I saw that it was only another 2 kilometers away. We were almost there! Then...we weren't. After walking way more than 2 kilometers, I decided to check the map again. I realized that it was 2 kilometers from where we started...the opposite way of where we were headed. At that point we decided to give up and hitch a ride back to the campsite.

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After about 10 minutes, a nice group of young Thai friends stopped and were able to squeeze us in there car. We passed by the Sunset Viewpoint again and saw a sign for the cave...the first person we got a ride from was right. At this point it was too late and we too little energy to stop. Moral of the story: always listen to Thai people - they know what they're doing. 

The drivers decided to stop off at the Sunrise Viewpoint. Once we were up there, the driver picked a leaf off a tree and started eating it. I'm enjoying the view and all I hear is Laura say, "Uhm is he eating a tree?" I looked over and sure enough, that's exactly what he was doing. Him and his friends pointed to a sign on the tree that was in Thai and said that it was good to eat. So we all decided to pick a leaf and try it. The flavor was like a strong mint mixed with sap. Basically, it tasted like you would expect a leaf to taste. We still aren't sure if it was actually a thing to eat this type of tree or if they were just messing with us stupid Americans. 

Once we were back at the campsite, we packed up our stuff, returned the tent, and waited for the bus back to Lom Sak. 

After an hour bus ride, we were back at the Lom Sak bus station. There, we found out that there is a bus that you can hop on for 40 baht that would take you to the bottom of the mountain where the magnificent temple Wat Pha Sorn Kaew is. 

After we got on the bus, we were on our way to Wat Pha Sorn Kaew. We drove down a twisty highway through the mountains. It was one of the most beautiful drives I have ever seen.

About an hour later (there was some confusion with our songthaew driver that took us up the mountain to the temple), we were there. 

We were starving and getting hangry, so we went to a little cafe right next to the temple called Piney. They had great food and tables on a picturesque patio overlooking the mountains. 

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Once we ate, we went to the temple. 

The temple was absolutely breathtaking. Between the cloud covered mountains in the background, the white Buddha temple, and the mosaics,  it was a unique sight that left me speechless. 

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After the temple, we went back to the Lom Sak bus station (yes for the fourth time in 24 hours) and caught a bus back to Bangkok. 

It was a long and tiring weekend, but the things I saw were one of a kind. While we spent most of the time on transportation of some kind, it was all worth it. The air was fresh, the people were nice, and the views were beautiful. 10 out of 10 would recommend Phetchabun.

Want to see more pictures from my adventures abroad?

Follow me on Instagram!

@pinnella_ice

Vacation Part 1: Happy Healing Home

Hello again world!  It sure has been a while.  My first semester of teaching ended mid-March, and I was kept busy grading exams and getting ready for many adventures!  Thailand's academic calendar is different from that in the United States, so my break that lasted from March to May was equivalent to a summer vacation.

The first part of my adventure was spent with my dad, who flew out to visit!  We traveled in Chiang Mai, an island called Koh Samet, and then I showed him around Chanthaburi, the town where I teach.  It was a great time that we managed to pack into just over a week!

After this I went and worked for ten days at the Happy Healing Home, an organic farm in the province of Chiang Mai.  This was a really nice experience!  Every morning we were woken up before 6am by the call of the roosters.  All volunteers had their own rhythms and interests, and thus sometimes worked on various different tasks. In the mornings I usually ground coffee beans and prepared coffee over the fire. After everyone was awake and had taken a cup of coffee or tea, we helped to prepare breakfast with fresh ingredients from the garden, and some mornings we did yoga and exercises before breakfast.  

Following breakfast we went out to work.  The work varied by day, and by individual.  Sometimes I worked on a building project, or took care of the buffaloes, or tended to the garden.  Working in the garden was definitely my favorite part.  I loved getting my hands dirty in the soil and learning about the plants and their nutritional or medicinal properties from Pinan Jim and Pinan Tea, the couple that runs the organic farm.  Working in the sun in the garden, always covered in dirt or water – I just felt so blissful surrounded by and caring for all of the plants that sustain us. The garden was certainly my happy place!

After a few hours of work we would return for yet another delicious meal. The food was honestly just phenomenal! Always super fresh and prepared with love.  After lunch we all rested for some time before the late afternoon work.  Usually during the afternoons I went out and collected grass for the buffaloes to eat.  And while it was a monotonous activity after doing it day after day, it was also very meditative, as were really all activities on the farm.  Working on the farm and constantly using my hands and physical energy, I always was focused on what I was doing right in that present moment. I realize when living in a city just how easy it is to get caught up in the craziness of life - always multi-tasking, always thinking about the future. But being able to really focus on and enjoy the present moment you are experiencing is very important, and is something I am making more of an effort to do in my everyday life. As Pinan Jim explained to us volunteers one day, not focusing on the present moment ultimately just detracts from your happiness.

In the evenings we had a light dinner, and then gathered around the communal area for tea, meditation, yoga, and listening to Pinan Jim play the guitar. During this time we conversed about various topics like Lanna culture, meditation, medicinal remedies – truly whatever you wanted to learn more about and discuss.

Overall it was quite a nice stay at the farm. I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning about a self-sustainable life of growing your own food and building your shelter, or if you are interested in gardening, permaculture, meditation, Lanna cooking, caring for animals, or simply if you want to get your hands dirty and do physical work. I would also suggest staying for a minimum of one week. It takes a few days to find your rhythm, so it is best to give yourself time to adjust and fully enjoy your stay. Staying on the farm required a lot of physical work as well, so be prepared for that! The living situation was very similar to camping. I had a small hut to live in with a mosquito net, mattress and blankets. The electricity was limited to lights in the common area – otherwise we were living completely off the grid! No refrigeration, fires made by hand for cooking, bucket showers, toilets where you flush by pouring a bucket of water into the toilet bowl, drinking water that came from a nearby well, filtered by a simple cloth over the faucet to catch any leaves, and of course no wifi! So it was definitely an adjustment, but also just a really lovely and peaceful experience of living the simple life on a farm in northern Thailand.

After my stay on the farm I met up with my friends Luke and Joey, and we went and saw Coldplay in Bangkok! And that was just such an awesome experience! Seeing one of my favorite bands live for the first time, and dancing and singing with great friends. It was such a memorable day!

Well that covers the first few weeks into my vacation – part two is coming soon! IMG_0918 IMG_0920 IMG_0925 IMG_0928 IMG_0953





The End of a Semester

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            Impressively, I was given a whole 16-hours to prepare my goodbye speech (in contrast to my Valentines Day speech, of which I was given 20 minutes notice). Teacher Ying appeared before me late Wednesday afternoon, flustered and breathing heavily (I’m not quite sure why she felt the need to run to me), and said, “Just talked to foreign language department… they want you to…” And here she paused and laughed to herself, unsure of quite how to say it, while I was gripped in panic. Wanted me to what? Put on a dance for the whole school? Go with them on a trip to Cambodia? What?

            “…Give a speech. A goodbye speech. Tomorrow morning. Now, you can have time to prepare for it.”

            “Oh, no,” I said, but it was half-hearted, and I knew it would do me no good. “Teacher Ying, do I have to? I hate public speaking!” But as I said it I was smiling, because as much as I’ve always dreaded public speaking, I didn’t completely feel convinced of my own words. Of course, public speaking still makes me nervous. But when, 6-months ago, I would have been Googling, “Ways to Calm Down Before a Speech,” and throwing cold water on myself in the bathroom moments before, this time, I only felt a slight twinge of nerves.

            I mean, I guess for one thing, I’ve been ‘public speaking’ every day for 6 months. Monday through Friday, I stand up at least twice a day in front of a group of 25 to 30 students. I’ve practiced the art of speaking slowly; of enunciating; of continuing to speak even when I think what I am saying is stupid, or when I can see my audience is more interested in their phones or their pillows (yes, they sometimes bring these to class) than me. It’s been great practice.

           But today I gave a goodbye speech to 3,000 people. And it occurred to me, as I spoke to them all this morning about my feelings about leaving, exactly why it was so comfortable and easy to speak to such a crowd.

            It was because I knew that even if they don’t know me, they respect me. A lot of them think I am beautiful (students I’ve never seen before often point at me and say, “Oh, suay—beautiful—teacher”); they think I am smart—at least, they think I know what I am doing up there in front of the classroom each day; and they think I am kind. And I can feel this appreciation, so standing up on stage, I didn’t have any of those mean thoughts towards myself that I normally would, in a room of 3,000 (“I probably look gross; I sound like an idiot; I shouldn’t be up here”). They’ve given me a confidence and a pride in myself that I can only hope I’ll find again in whatever future job I have.

            Here’s, in essence, what I said in my speech (at least, what I wrote down to say—I’m sure I left some parts out, but this is what I’d planned):

            “Hello. I would just like to say that it has been such a privilege teaching you all.    You know, so many of my friends back home dread Monday through Friday because of their jobs. And I know I have been so, so lucky, that I wake up Monday morning excited to come here, to you all. Thank you for showing me your culture. Thank you for including me in everything and making me feel at home here in Sakon Nakhon. Thank you to my co-teachers and director and you, Teacher Owen (he was on stage with me). Thank you for setting great examples of wonderful teachers, and for your kindness. Thank you, most of all, to my students, for your enthusiasm each day in the classroom and for your friendship. I will never forget a single one of you. I know you will all do incredible, unbelievable things with your lives. Good luck with everything. If you are ever in America, let me know, and we can… you know, hang out. (Because America is awfully small). Again, thank you.”

And then I bowed to them as they’d all bowed to me, hundreds of times before.

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            So, how does it feel to be finished? I’ve been asked this a lot. I taught my last class Monday afternoon. And when I got home, the first thing I felt was an intense level of relief. It’s such a heavy feeling, to be burdened (and gifted) with the responsibility of increasing a student’s English proficiency, especially when I never knew quite where to begin. Do I start with content—showing them songs by Bruce Springsteen, who they’ve never heard of, or Billboard Hits of 2017, to include them in a musical conversation with the world; showing them passages from books like Catcher in the Rye and Catch-22, books that changed my life and changed so many others; do I show them movies that portray American culture, movies that educate and move and inspire… or, do I start with grammar, with parts of a sentence, and how a verb must always follow a subject, and just how fascinating grammar is when you understand the formula and know what you can plug in where and when you can break the rules and why? I mean, my god—how can one person just decide which is more important, or which should come first?

            So I feel relief that I did the best I could, but that I don’t have to worry about it any longer. I hope whoever comes after me to teach these kids is a little more experienced than I was, because these kids deserve the chance to become fluent in English. They deserve the chance to watch a movie in their movie theatre without the weird Thai voice-overs (which never matches the lip movements, and is usually terribly translated). They deserve to read The Great Gatsby. They deserve to listen to their favorite songs (by the Chainsmokers, and Justin Bieber), and know, really know, what they are singing.

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            But after my speech, I also felt sadness and wished, a little bit, that I could stay longer (I know—I never thought I’d say that, either). Because my words were not lies. They have made this place feel like home to me. And I am so nervous that whoever comes after me will not have the passion and love that I have for English, or for these kids, and will be someone who doesn’t know how to relate to them or inspire them or grow with them. And it is sad that I will not necessarily know how they all end up.

            I’ve made plenty of lists before, and a lot of my lists mention all the difficulties of living abroad. I’d like to make one more, but this time, I’d like to list all the things about Sakon Nakhon that I will miss the most.

1. I will miss feeling like the wealthiest person on the planet. Seriously—I was shopping at the mall the other day, and I saw two dresses that I thought I could wear for whatever job I get next (in other words… not crappy quality from a street market, which I will inevitably throw out in 2 weeks when it falls apart). But they were “expensive”: $20 each—totaling 1,400 baht (anyone who lives here, knows… this is a lot of money. This is the amount I pay to rent my motorbike for a month. This is the amount I pay for a round-trip ticket to and from Bangkok. This is probably 3-weeks of rice and chicken and weird pork balls. This is probably 1/6 of someone’s monthly paycheck.) So when I bought these two dresses, the saleswomen, who had watched me wide-eyed as I’d begun picking out three, four, five of these expensive dresses to try on, and then had held onto two, practically bowed to the ground as I walked out of the store and repeated, over and over again, a bit in awe, “Thank you, Miss, thank you, thank you.”

            As I walked back from dinner last night, a man who sits on the corner in a little brown hut (I believe he is a tailor, because he’s always working on a sewing machine), began speaking to me about the food I’d bought. He gestured to his own dinner—some white rice—and then he said, “I am not rich, like you.”

            “Rich?” I laughed. “Trust me, I’m 23-years-old and I just graduated from college. In America, I am not rich.”

            “In Thailand, you are a teacher. This means you are very, very rich. You make 30,000 baht a month, don’t you?” (Not sure how he knows my salary).

            “Yes…” I said, becoming increasingly uncomfortable with this conversation.

            “Could I… do you think I could possibly borrow 100 baht for dinner? I will pay you back… on Tuesday morning, I will have more money. I will pay you back.”

            (100 baht = 3 dollars).

            “Yes,” I said immediately, reaching into my wallet and feeling embarrassed when I saw he noticed I had 2,000 baht on me. I handed him 100 and said, sincerely, “Really, please. You don’t have to pay me back.”

            Of course, I know, money isn’t everything/can’t buy you happiness, etc., etc. But when you have just graduated college, and you are about to be the lowest on the totem pole at whichever company you go to next, it is a very nice feeling, for a little while, to feel so capable of being able to afford anything (in moderation) and not having to worry about money. I don’t have to worry about my rent or how much dessert costs or whether I can afford the bottle of wine; I don’t have to worry about paying a ridiculous amount of money for two dresses or whether I can afford to fly to Bali for a weekend or get my hair cut in Bangkok, and if this was America, I would absolutely be worried about all of these things as a young 20-something starting out in a city. But here, my salary is incredibly generous and travelling is incredibly affordable. Which leads me to my next point…

2. I’ll miss my location. Of course, I don’t necessarily mean being stuck in the middle-of-nowhere Northeast Thailand, with rice fields on my left and dirt patches on my right and three-bus-rides-two-taxi-rides-one-songtaew-drive away from anything exciting.

            I mean being 40 minutes from Vietnam; 2 hours 40 minutes from Hong Kong; 4 hours from Bali.

            I mean being $50 from India; $100 from Australia; and $200 from Paris (I know—why aren’t I going to Paris, again?).

            Let’s do some quick comparisons here: I could fly to India for the price it costs me to take an uber back home from Boston. I could fly to Australia for the price of my Ray Ban sunglasses. I could head over to Paris for the price I made babysitting one night last summer. This is not crazy or unattainable or ambitious. This is why I will miss my location. It has made the entire world accessible to me. I can travel the world from Sakon Nakhon for the price of an uber or a pair of sunglasses, to places I’d never even had on my radar before now (I thought India would cost thousands!). If nothing else, I wish I could stay longer for this reason.

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3. I will miss my independence. I will miss my routine. As lonely as it sometimes felt, I will miss coming home after school and answering only one question: What do you want to do now? I will miss being able to make the decision to go to the mall and buy iced tea and wander aimlessly around the shops; I will miss heading to the gym and saying hello to my gym friends and taking a work-out class before bringing KFC chicken back to my apartment; I will miss deciding, screw it, and locking myself in my room with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and watching Netflix movies all night because I need a break from the whole world. This is not to say it will not be possible for me to do all these things in America—but the decision will not feel as guilt-free, and as easily my own, when I am considering what my friends or family are doing or whether I owe it to someone to be somewhere else.

4. I will miss (sometimes!) the time difference. This one is especially surprising, even to me. The time difference is a complete pain in the neck. Every time I’m waking up to start my day, everyone in America is headed to bed—or they are tired, and don’t really want to talk or Skype or catch-up; and then when they are awake and want to fill me in on their lives, I am tired at the end of a long day… an endless cycle.

            But it also means, from the hours of about 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., my phone is relatively quiet (apart from the friends I’ve made in Thailand… and my brother Max, who is nocturnal). And it’s a very nice thing. I have found creative ways to keep in touch with people back home (including Facetiming at 8 a.m., during morning assembly, in an empty classroom; writing long catch-up novels via Facebook; or sending good-morning-good-night texts for the other person to respond to the next day). But it’s nice to not feel glued to my phone. It’s become habit for me to put my phone on airplane mode for hours, because why not, and when I get a message from anyone, I don’t mind waiting a few hours to respond—blame it on the time-difference, blame it on a lack of urgency, or blame it simply on this (somewhat forced) living-in-the-moment mentality I have found as a result of the time difference.

5. I will miss every weekend being an adventure. I hope I find motivation to make my way to the bus station in America (do we even have one…?), to look at a sign, point, and say, “Okay, how about we try there?” I hope I hold onto this curiosity for my surroundings, but I know it is not the same. Part of the adventure, part of the spontaneity, comes from me simply not knowing any better. I point to a sign here in Sakon Nakhon Bus Terminal and say, “Let’s try there,” because it makes no difference to me, and because it’s in a different language, and because it usually doesn’t cost more than $5 to drive on a bus for hours. And I know it will not be the same, to show up at a Boston bus station and point and say, “Let’s try there,” because 1. It will probably end up shipping me off to some place like Lowell or Chelsea, and I’ll think, Okay, this was probably a waste of time and money; and 2. Travelling in America, to anywhere, takes more preparation. I cannot find novelty anywhere. I cannot just take a bus to Lowell and think, Wow, this place is so cool and different and look at that temple! But here, I can. I can literally take a bus 7 minutes or 7 hours away and it makes (almost) no difference to me—it is always exciting, it is always new and novel and interesting, because it is never familiar.

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6. I will miss the people. I’ve said it before, so I’ll try to be brief: I will miss their kindness. I will miss their inclusivity. I will miss 21-year-old girls driving me to their hometown, even though I am a stranger to them, because they are “headed there anyway.” I will miss teacher Ying, who invited me to camp for an entire weekend with her and her friend because, “You should have the opportunity to see Phetchabun Mountain while you are here.”

            I will miss Fluke pointing to the word “Perfect” on a Present Perfect Quiz and whispering to me, “Teacher, why does it say my name?” Or Oom looking over, from the seat beside him, and saying, “I do not know where you are getting this confidence from.”

            I will miss students literally chasing after me to lean over the railing to shout goodbye at the end of the day. I will miss Googling what the sheep look like in New Zealand with Oom (and, then, of course… what the boys look like). I will miss Top always saying good night when I walk into the classroom, and how he is always prepared to sing song lyrics in response to anything I say (Me: “I will always…” Top: “…love you?…” Me: “It’s not too late…” Top: “…To say sorry…?”). I will miss Noon always giving me some of her breakfast and Mew always grabbing my wrist as I walk by to tell me how beautiful I am and Jom telling me before anyone else about going to Wisconsin and Benz saying, “We have to be on our best behavior in class today; we have someone coming to observe,” and me saying, “What, you don’t have to be on your best behavior when it’s just me?” And all the kids laughing… Actually, just in general, I will miss all the kids laughing. They make me feel like the funniest person on the planet… Which leads to my last point…

7. I will miss who I am as their teacher. When I stand in front of them, I can be silly and funny and ridiculous and witty and confident. And these are not compliments—I am not saying I am any of these things. I am saying these are things I have become because of my students—they make me this way. They allow for it. They encourage it and inspire it. I wouldn’t say I am a different person in front of them. Because I act the same way around my closest friends. But this is the first time I have seen myself act this way out in the world, with (essentially) strangers—or, at least, not my best friends. They have given me the confidence to say things spontaneously, and to embarrass myself, and to show my foolish or naïve side, because they have never judged me or shown me anything but admiration. If, in my next job, I am surrounded by people who make me even half as confident, I will be happy.

            Next Thursday, I head to Bangkok at 10 a.m. I will have packed up my entire apartment and I will be taking it all with me. I will store it in Bangkok for a month, and then (finally) I will begin my travels. I can’t express how excited I am for these travels. March 11, I fly to Chiang Mai. I will take a bath with elephants and feed them food; I will take a cooking class; I will explore the Grand Canyon and try new foods and venture to waterfalls.

            I will head from there to Pai, a gorgeous little town, which I’ve heard also has great waterfalls and Grand Canyons and tea plantations. From there, I will go to Chiang Rai to see temples and museums and then back to Chiang Mai.

            On March 24, I will fly back to Bangkok and, from there, I will fly to Hanoi, Vietnam. After a few days there, we will head to Sa Pa to see beautiful fields and waterfalls (Google it—I can’t quite explain it, since I haven’t been there, but it looks breathtakingly beautiful).

            Then we will do a cruise on Halong Bay. We will fly to Hoi An from there, and then Saigon, and then we will fly to the south of Cambodia. We will spend a few days on an island there—I’ve heard the beaches are incredible: white sand, clear turquoise water. From there, we will end up in Angkor Wat.

            On April 14, I will head back to Bangkok to grab my suitcase. Then I will fly to Dubai to spend 5 days there with another CIEE friend. And then, on April 20th, I will journey home.

            I am beyond excited. I know it will go fast, but I will do my best to take plenty of pictures and write (in my phone Notes section) all about my travels, so that when I am home (I am leaving my laptop in Bangkok, so I cannot blog before then), I can update you all on my experiences exploring this little piece of the world. But even if I manage to blog again for CIEE, this is the last one I will write from Sakon Nakhon, and probably the last one I will write until April 20th. So thank you all for reading about my Sakon Nakhon adventures—updates to come! 


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Khao Kitchakut

A few weekends ago I decided to stay in my town, Chanthaburi, and go on some local adventures. I had heard of Khao Kitchakut National Park, home to forests, waterfalls, and a Buddha footprint, so I decided to check it out! I was ready for a nice, peaceful afternoon with some pleasant hiking and swimming.

I took a 40-minute motor taxi ride to the park, and when I arrived I was shocked – it was so crowded! But then I realized why – for one, it was a weekend, and for two, it was a Buddhist holiday weekend (Makha Bucha – a day to honor Buddha) which meant that several people from all around Chanthaburi and surrounding provinces came here on a religious pilgrimage up to the top of the mountain. I bought a ticket for the ride that would take me part-way up the mountain, and as I waited for my number to be called I meandered about, got lunch, and got asked to take selfies with a bunch of strangers! In Chanthaburi I am pretty much old news (thank goodness), but here I was a whole new novelty again.

Finally, I hop into a pick up truck with 7 other people. Now, the ride up and down was an experience in itself! Imagine a pick up truck with 8 passengers zooming up and down a winding hill, with sharp inclines and slopes, avoiding other truck drivers taking people up and down. It honestly felt like a roller coaster! I held on to the side of the truck for my dear life, so that I didn’t fly right out of the truck (okay that was a bit of an exaggeration, but honestly not by much)! The elderly Thai lady across from me greatly enjoyed the facial expressions I made with each bump or major slope, as she sat on the seat as peacefully as the circumstance permitted, and just smiled lightly chuckled as she held tightly to the rail. She had obviously done this before.

We were dropped off about halfway up the mountain, and from there, me, plus hundreds of other people, hiked, and hiked, and hiked! Along the way up, there were several shrines, where people scattered flowers and burned incense, as a way of thanking Buddha. There were also monks on different parts of the trail that said prayers and blessed people with holy water. As we all walked up, we placed coins on parts of the mountain, rang bells, and stopped to pray at the different shrines, all for giving thanks, and for obtaining good luck, good health, peace, and prosperity in life. I was fortunate to run into an English-speaking volunteer about half of the way up the mountain, so the rest of the way she accompanied me, and explained the significance and rituals, showed me what I should do at the different parts of the mountain, and in general she was a great help and also a nice hiking buddy. At the top of the mountain, everyone wrote their name and a prayer or wish on red cloths, and tied them to the trees, creating a sea of prayers and positive energy. In general, it was such a fulfilling day, and I am so glad that I accidentally went during the holiday weekend and got to have this experience alongside so many Thai people.

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Bali: The 'Real' World

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            So, if you are reading this, you might be doing exactly what I was doing 8-months ago. You might be researching ways to travel the world. You might even get scared, and start Googling, “Ways to travel Boston,” or, “Jobs to Travel Internationally but Then Come Home Again,” instead. Trust me, I here you.

            Last week, I took a solo trip to Bali. And, instantly, I understood why all those other options never would have worked for me.

            Let me start by saying exactly how high my expectations for Bali were.

            Two summers ago, I read Eat, Pray, Love for the first time (I’ve read it twice since). It completely changed my life. It changed how I felt about relationships, it changed how I saw religion, it fueled my desire to travel, and, mostly, it changed how I understood writing. Never before had I read something so philosophical and intelligent and thought-provoking. I mean, truly, it was smart. Elizabeth Gilbert is a writer who could probably sum up all of Einstein’s theories in some neat, funny little chapter, if she wanted to. Whether you’ve read it or not (or seen the movie—which, unsurprisingly, doesn’t do the book justice), you might already know that the ‘Love’ part of Eat, Pray, Love takes place in Bali. Since reading the book, it had been my dream to go to Bali alone, like she did.

            The thing about this dream was, it was far-fetched. It was so ridiculous to me, in fact, that I’d all but forgotten it, as if my mind said, ‘Okay, we’ll go back to that when you’re older’. I wasn’t in any way actively pursuing it, and, honestly, it felt as out-of-reach as becoming a famous movie star or going to the moon.

            So it seemed a little bit like Fate when, last week, I realized I had this exact opportunity, randomly, to fulfill this dream to travel alone to Bali, like I’d imagined.

            But actually, no. Not just Fate. Fate implies that it was the universe, or something of which I had no control, that got me to Bali. But that is not true. I was able, at 23-years-old, to seize this opportunity for myself; I was an active participant in the fulfillment of this dream. I was able to do something that, a year ago, I’d only romanticized as something I might do by the time I was 30. I mean, on Tuesday, my coworkers said to me, “Did you know we have six days off next week? I guess they’re using the school as a parking zone for parents during the University’s graduation. So you can travel, if you want.”

            On Wednesday, I booked my plane tickets.

            Honestly, I could have gone and laid in the grass at the airport and been completely content. I was just so happy to be there, and so happy to see that the nature outside the airport windows already did not disappoint. The grass was a different shade of green than I’ve seen; I could see palm trees and coconut trees and banana trees with three-foot-long leaves; it was all just so green, compared to Thailand.

            As I’d discussed with my friend Gabi the weekend before, who had studied abroad in Indonesia: There are two ways I could do Bali.

           I’d done plenty of research. I’d drawn maps and graphs and timetables and schedules and emailed Yoga studios and tour guides and hotel managers and read blogs and news articles and watched Youtube videos. I’d eventually decided to do 3 days in Ubud, since it was the ‘cultural capital’ and their major city (although ‘city’ sounds pretty urban—more like a very busy hippie/vegan town), and then 2 days on Gili Air, the Gili Island that is relatively empty, but still has more restaurants than Gili Menu, which is more suitable for honeymooners.

            To say I was prepared for Bali was an understatement. I had six days to cover everything, and I was ready to do exactly that.

            Gaby supported this. She said: “You can do Bali that way, if you like. You can get up at the crack of dawn and see the sunrise over the rice fields before making your way to the temples and the markets; fitting in a day-long bike tour; doing yoga in the evening and making sure to stumble across all the top-rated restaurants; getting a massage and facial at night; seeing the dance festival after that, etc. etc. You can do Bali that way.

            Or.” She’d said. “Or… you can sleep in. You can wake up when you want to wake up, and lazily have a smoothie for breakfast from some random place, and maybe make your way to a yoga studio. And get a massage in the afternoon. And read in a café for a while. And do some meditation at night, and get some ice cream if you feel like it, and go to bed. You can do Bali that way, too. Whichever you like.”

            When I am travelling, I am most always person A. I am the person who makes sure I see every square inch of land that I can within 24-hours: sacrificing sleep, sacrificing money, to make sure I am signed up for every temple-visit, Bike-tour, wine-tasting, spiritual-awakening, and overnight-hike the country has to offer. And I’d planned on doing Bali this way, too.

            As soon as I saw my bed, which was a beautiful white canopy with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking rice fields, I wavered. Okay, I thought, I can sleep in. Just tomorrow. To enjoy the bed.

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            I woke up around 9. I read my book for an hour before remembering breakfast ends at 10:30. So I ate breakfast at the hotel, and finally asked the front desk how I could walk to the Yoga Barn.

            As I walked, I realized: I will waste all my money, and all my time, this vacation if I am constantly thinking about what’s-next-what’s-next-what’s-after-that. I mean, my god: I was in the Spiritual Motherland of Being-In-The-Moment.   

            These people, this is how they live (at least, as far as I could see, from my extensive experience driving past them): They sit. They relax. They meditate and pray. They eat when they want to eat. Then they sit some more, in the same spots, talking to the same people, believing to their core that this is where they are meant to be.

            So, by the time I found the Yoga studio, I’d made my mind up. I was going to do Bali the Balinese way: relaxed, unplanned, leisurely, doing only what I really wanted to do in that moment. (Granted, I do understand that my experience was not at all a ‘true’ Balinese experience: I know the Balinese are not typically getting high-quality massage-and-facial packages, or paying $10 a class to sit and do Yoga, or paying $20 for a 4-course meal at a 5-star Italian restaurant, or stopping to pay for fancy juices with chia seeds and organic kale… I do know this; but still. I guess I was trying to emanate their spiritual beliefs, in my own nice, cozy tourist-bubble).

            After yoga, I thought about asking them where the nearest temple was, after this; or if they knew of any cultural museums in the area. Instead, I approached the front desk and said, “Do you know where Taksu spa is?” I’d written it down in my notebook after finding some blog article about it.

            I walked to Taksu and signed up for a Balinese massage (because I was trying to get into the culture, of course), and a facial. In total, it was $40, for a two-hour treatment. The first hour, I had a full body oil massage. After that, I sat for another hour for a deep-cleanse facial. Then, I sat in their garden, drinking a smoothie, included in the package, and read my book.

            By now, it was about 4:30 p.m. I decided to make my way to the Palace and a temple, since I was feeling guilty for hiding away in this spa when there was so much of Ubud I hadn’t seen yet. So I walked, and saw the ‘Palace’ (which was pretty grungy looking, and crawling with tourists and selfie-sticks and loud chatter), and this beautiful temple (which was right beside a Starbucks, and again, crawling with tourists and selfie-sticks), and I realized I had nothing to feel guilty about. These places might’ve been nice to visit, but they certainly weren’t do-or-die… they were just tourist spots.

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            For dinner, I went to an Italian restaurant called Kebun Café, which Gaby had recommended, promising me it had “the best gnocci of my life.” I had tea and a salad (with beets! And spinach! I almost died of happiness) and gnocci with pesto (she was probably right… and I lived in Florence). Then I walked home through the rain, read some more, and went to sleep in my little canopy bed.

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            The next morning, I woke up at 7 a.m. to begin a bike tour I’d signed up for with the Eco-Cycling Company in Ubud. We started at Mount Batur. The mountain, because of the shifting of the Earth over thousands of years etc. etc., has become two volcanoes separated by a beautiful lake, much like the lakes I’d seen in Europe. It is one of the 10 biggest craters in the world.   

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The bike ride was easy. It was entirely downhill, and I barely moved my feet; I mostly just glided.

            My favorite part of the trip was our experience stopping at a Balinese family’s compound. The compound consisted of a few small, dilapidated bare white buildings, mostly empty of furniture apart from a mattress or a pot above a coal fireplace.

            Our tour guide walked us over to the kitchen. This ‘kitchen,’ was a small, very dark room, with a single black coal pot sitting on a hole, under which were some sticks for the fire. This was their stove.

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            “Every day of our lives, our mother cooks us breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” our guide, who must’ve been at least 25, said. “But she only makes one meal per day, and we just eat it whenever we get hungry. She wakes up at 5 a.m. to get to the market to get our food. People from Bali love breakfast, because it’s the only meal of the day that is fresh. After that, our food sits on the kitchen table all day.    So, when I get hungry, I just walk into the kitchen and eat some more of whatever my mom prepared that morning. We obviously don’t have microwaves or refrigerators, so we definitely have some hygiene problems, but we have built up a high immunity.” He said casually, unfazed.

            As we exited the compound we passed a rooster stuck in a little straw cage, and our tour guide pointed to him and said, “We are going to have a cockfight at the end of the month. To sacrifice rooster blood to the spirits. That part is legal. But we will also be gambling, which is illegal.”

            I don’t want to say any of this with too much pity, or too much wow-aren’t-we-lucky reflection, because 1. It’s been done before, and 2. I don’t really think I saw enough to generalize anything about what it is like to live in Bali (what if someone took you to a random house in rural Texas, for instance, and said, ‘This is how all American families live’).

            I will just say that I was shocked, to see how little some of these Balinese people had, because—my god, they seem so happy. As I biked past them, every single person came to the doorway of their shop or compound, or looked up from the ground they were laying on or from the river they were washing clothes in, and smiled ear-to-ear without a trace of bitterness or dejectedness or defeat, shouting out to me: “Hello! Good morning!” Their days seemed so monotonous, and terribly hopeless, without any promise of variation. I just kept thinking—what do they have to ‘live’ for? I don’t mean that question in a religious way, or any deeply philosophical way. I simply mean: What dreams can they entertain for themselves? What goals can they work to achieve? Is there any serious reward for their hard work, besides the same meal on the table every morning?

            Perhaps this is why religion, or spirituality, can be seen everywhere. Bali’s predominant religion is Hinduism. I didn’t know much about Hinduism when I arrived. Here’s all I know after my trip: Everywhere I went, each morning, there were small baskets filled with fresh incense and flowers, which were offerings for different purposes (good luck, warding off evil spirits, expressing gratitude, etc.)

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            Besides the offerings, they have temples everywhere. Each house has it’s own family temple, and it would be ridiculous to pray at anyone else’s temple, because each family temple is for that family’s ancestors. The family temples were my favorite temples—must more impressive than the ones over-hyped by tourists.

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            And then, besides the temples, they simply have a spiritual language. For instance: “I hope you have a blissful time in Bali; Would you like to come and get a massage, so I can rearrange your chakra energies? Would you like chia seeds in your smoothie… it is good for the soul. Everyone, can you please breathe in, and when you breathe out, breathe out all of the evil spirits that reside within you.”    

            And, perhaps most fascinating: the word for ‘artist’ and ‘human being’ is the same in Bali. They don’t have a word for ‘artist’ because everyone is an artist. Art is simply a devotional prayer to the gods.

            Anyways, so we biked past rice fields and through little towns and saw a more authentic version of Bali than I’d seen before. There were just two other Asian women with me on this trip, but they were very nice.

            After the bike tour, I went to this fantastic place called Kafe for dinner, and got a sweet potato/beet/spinach/walnut salad with some healthy smoothie and hummus on the side. It was probably the best meal I’ve had in all of Asia (that’s terrible, I know. I feel guilty for saying it. Okay, okay… the fried rice is good, too).

            Then I walked, again through the rain (it’s ‘rainy’ season in Bali… glad I was warned), and ended up buying gelato at some fancy hotel. I sat on the porch and talked casually with the Balinese worker who’d scooped my gelato for me. He told me that this is how all Balinese people learn English: they speak to tourists. Considering I didn’t need to know a single Indonesian word (not even hello!) the entire time I was there, I was impressed by this. I apologized for not knowing any Indonesian, but the man shrugged it off. “We should learn English. It is the language of the world. It is not just for speaking with Americans… it is how we speak with Europeans, Chinese. Everyone.” Still, I thought about how difficult it would be for me, if I had to learn Spanish through random exchanges with foreigners on the streets of Boston, and I told him again how grateful I was that he was trying.

            The next day, I got up early, took a van to the harbor, and then took a fast ferry across the ocean to Gili Air.

            Seeing as every single other person on the boat got off at Gili T, I understood quickly just how secluded I’d be on this island. And it’s what I’d wanted, originally: seclusion, a chance to lie on the beach and do nothing and tan and read.

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            The only problem was—rainy season, remember? So it was cloudy when I arrived on Gili Air, and started raining within minutes. And what, exactly, are my alternative options on Gili Air, if I am not lying on the beach?

            First, I spent three hours reading in my hotel room. I took a nap. Then I woke up and considered just staying in my room the rest of the day. I know, that’s pathetic. But I was so tired from moving around, and also, the rain was depressing. Thankfully, I found the energy to get up (and the motivation: I promised myself a snack, if I could get out the door). I ate some yoghurt with fruit, overlooking the ocean (which definitely has a different kind of beauty, in the rain), and was extremely well attended to by two boys who live on the island and work at my hotel; since I was the only customer, they stood near me the whole time I ate. I liked their company.

            After my snack, I took an hour and a half candlelit yoga class. It was peaceful, for the most part, and filled with at least 30 other tourists (no idea where they’d all been before, or where they went afterwards).

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            After the class I wandered, and ended up at some random restaurant because it was selling pasta.

            I was trying not to attract any extra attention (feeling a bit like some strange loner girl as it was, reading her book and not really talking or looking at anyone, while mostly everyone else was here with a boyfriend/girlfriend), when this cat came to my table and just wouldn’t stop meowing. Meowing is an understatement—this cat was screeching, right at my table. I kept smiling at it and kind of shooing it away before going back to my book, thinking, Please leave me alone, I cannot be the girl who sits by herself and feeds the stray cats.

            But the cat wouldn’t shut up, and people kept looking at me like, Uhm, can you please control your friend, so finally I just pushed some of my pasta onto the seat beside me and the cat shut up, happily eating his share.

            So that was Gili Air. I left the next morning. Overall, I can’t say it was my favorite part of the trip. But I will say one thing: I felt lucky, that I had the opportunity to be disappointed by a place. I mean, if I’d done the whole office job back in America, and had accepted a quick 10-day trip to Asia as my consolation prize, my night on Gili Air would have felt disastrous, like But this was 1/10th of my trip! Instead, it was just a mediocre solo adventure to an island, (which I know I would’ve regretted had I skipped), and one of many adventures I will have in Asia before my time to leave.

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            The last thing I will tell you about is my experience after arriving back from Gili Air on Monday afternoon. I was staying near the airport, and my flight wasn’t until Tuesday morning, so in classic “Me” fashion, I began thinking about what I could do in the 5 hours I had left (before sleeping). It dawned on me that I felt very unfulfilled with what I’d done in terms of following in Liz Gilbert’s footsteps—I hadn’t meditated once, I hadn’t fallen in love, and I hadn’t visited a Medicine man. Seeing as only one of these was something I could Google (and not waste $500 learning how to do), I found a Medicine man, not too far from the airport, and emailed him.

            After receiving a response from him, saying he could help me, I grabbed myself a taxi from the airport and was dropped off 20-minutes later on this desolate side street. All I could see on this street were two men sitting on the front stoop of a random white building.

            “Ah,” I stepped toward them, my taxi driver still watching. “Bali Chy Healing?”

            They pointed down the street.

            “Okay, thanks.”

            I turned the corner and saw the sign. I entered this ‘shop’ and sat down in a chair while I waited for an older (mid-60’s?) dark brown Balinese man to finish his conversation with another patient. The Balinese man looked sweet, with large, thin-rimmed square glasses, a wide smile, and black hair graying around the ears. Like a grandfather, maybe (not mine, of course).

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            While I waited, I read a pamphlet about him. It said: “Sami is a traditional Balinese healer and doctor known as Balian Usada. With his holistic treatment he is able to diagnose and find solutions to physical ailments, emotional trauma, and spiritual consciousness issues… Sami had the opportunity to meet high spiritual beings (for example Sri Chinmoy), who regarded him as a superior being as well… He is now a very wise man.”

            I skipped a few (boring) parts. On the front, it said he could do energy balancing, reading and life coaching, kinesiology… and some other stuff, mostly stuff I’ve never heard about. I thought about what I wanted and decided my ‘energies’ probably needed balancing, and I probably needed some life coaching, since I was here and all, and paying $70 (I’m embarrassed to admit that… my co-teachers all laughed when I told them how much I’d spent, and said, ‘I could’ve told you how to be happy for free! I could’ve balanced your energies for a discount!’)

            An older, bigger woman, with jet-black hair and a sweaty face, suddenly appeared in the doorway. “Come, come!” She said, motioning for me to follow her. “You have appointment?” She asked.

            “Uh, sort of. I emailed,” I said. She nodded, and that was that. (Note: if you’re ever in Bali, just say you have an appointment, even if you don’t. How will they ever know?)

            “Lie down,” she pointed to a bed behind a curtain, and then said, “But first, take off all your clothes.”

            I did as she said and lay down on the bed. She explained that, first, she was going to give me a massage and do some acupressure to ‘get my energies flowing.’ For the first 15-minutes, as she worked, I asked various questions, like I was writing some research report on the whole thing. “How did you become a healer? He trained you? Who trained him, though? Wait, what are you doing now… can you feel the energies? Are there different energies in different parts of the body? How will we know when they’re balanced… can you feel the imbalance right now? Also, just curious… can the Medicine Man tell me my future? Can he read my mind?”

            Finally, as I relaxed, I quieted. Actually, I probably pretty much fell asleep. It felt really nice. If nothing else, the $70 got me a great massage.

            After at least 45-minutes, she finally called the man in. She told him, through the curtain, that I was “ready.” He came in and said, “Just relax, Caroline. Don’t think. Close your eyes.” I did as he said and there, in the dark, he put both sets of fingertips on my head and kept them there.

            For a while, I stayed relaxed. My mind was still thinking ferociously, as it always does (it gets worse, I’ve found, when I try to think, ‘don’t think of anything! Be in the moment! Relax!’ When I tell my mind not to do something, it tries really hard to do the opposite).

            After a while, my mind drifted and I thought about how much trust I was giving these people. Then I really thought about it. I mean, wait a minute. My bag, with my purse and debit card and credit card and cash, was sitting right beside him, not me. And I’m lying here, in the dark, on some random road on a deserted street, with my eyes closed. What the hell is keeping him from stealing from me? I thought, and then, even worse, Oh my god, what the hell is keeping him from KILLING me? Seriously, why hasn’t he stabbed me ALREADY? It would be genius. Stab me, put my body in the backyard… no one in the entire world knows where I am anyway… take all my debit cards/credit cards etc., and you could probably make a pretty good life for yourself… for at least a month or two… in Bali. And no one will ever know.

             As I’m thinking this, I opened my eyes (just to check, you know… that he doesn’t have a knife in his hand, or something), and he said, like he was reading my mind, “Okay. We are done.”

            I met him in the front room, right by the road. I had no idea where the woman went—I never saw her again.

            He smiled at me and took out a big book and said, “So, Caroline. What is your problem?” I realized he meant what is my physical ailment—why am I even here in the first place—and I know I can’t really say, “Oh, I don’t have one, I just want you to tell me my future like someone in Bali told Elizabeth Gilbert hers. And maybe also tell me my purpose in life, and anything else you think is fun I should know.”

            So, instead, I said weakly, “Oh, I don’t know. I wanted my energies balanced…” I have no idea what that even means… “And, also, I want to be more in-the-moment, I guess?”

            He nodded and said, “You worry. You are very self-critical. You get stressed. You have a lot of knowledge… but you are not wise.”

            He drew a triangle on a piece of paper and turned it to face me. Then he wrote, at the top of the triangle, the word ‘Spirit.’ Below, in the middle, he wrote, ‘Mind.’ Finally, at the bottom, he wrote, ‘Body.’

            Then he drew a chart and wrote ‘Emotional,’ with all those really nice attributes he’d given me below (stress/nerves/anxiety/self-critical); on the other side of the chart, he wrote ‘Think.’

            “You are also very active. Very creative. Very innovation.” (English is his second language; let’s bear in mind). He wrote these words below ‘Think’. Then, randomly, he drew a bunch of + signs under ‘Think’.

            “You think too much. That is your problem. When you think too much, you are not in the moment. To be happy, you must be in the moment.”

            “Yes, but… how?” I asked.

            He looked up at me, exasperated. “I just told you!” He said, laughing, but sounding frustrated. “This is what I’m talking about. I told you!”

            “Oh… Okay! Okay! I see now!” I said conciliatorily (Did he tell me? Was I not listening close enough?).

            After a moment, he continued. “See, you want to know Who you are. You want to know Where you are. You want to know How to be happy. You want to know Why life is like this. You want to know What can make you happy.” He wrote these words in the corner of the page.

            “You are 23, Caroline. 23. You don’t need to know. Step-by-step, yes?”

            “Okay,” I nodded. “Okay.”

            “You want to know how to be happy… To be happy, you must be Healthy. You must be Aware of yourself. You must be Present. You must be Positive. And you must be Yourself. You see! It spells Happy!” He showed me on the paper, and then said, kindly, “You can keep this, by the way.”

            I continued to nod. I mean, I didn’t really know what else to say (I certainly wasn’t going to ask him any questions—I didn’t want him exploding on me again, and ripping up the paper in frustration, or something).

            “You cannot reach your spirit until you calm the mind. Just be happy. When you reach the spirit by being happy, you can find inspiration (he wrote in-SPIRIT-ation on the paper), from the universe. Do what makes you happy, help other people, and find inspiration—and you will be happy.” It began sounding a bit like circular reasoning to me (you know, X is true because of Y, and Y is true because of X), but still, the more he said it, the more I could believe it really was that simple. It felt a bit like he’d taken a burden off of me. If my only ‘homework’ from him was to be happy… well, that’s a fun thing to focus on, isn’t it? Much better than becoming some meditative guru and spending hundreds at a retreat, or something.

            When I asked, “To find my spirit, should I meditate or pray?” He shrugged and said, “You can. Or, just be happy.”

            Okay. I think I can do that.

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            The crazy thing about this whole trip was, I didn’t have to sit at a desk for 5 years to save up for it. I didn’t have to land a book deal or go through some traumatic mid-life crisis. I didn’t have to try all that hard, really… the opportunity more or less just fell into my lap. And that in itself is CRAZY to me. I mean, Bali? Indonesia? What do I even know about Indonesia? I don’t think it really hit me, how lucky I am here, until I realized just how graspable the whole world feels to me right now. It’s all so much more within reach than I’d realized.

            May of last year, I’d stopped researching work opportunities abroad and, instead, I’d begun emailing colleges in the local Boston area about Admissions Counselors positions because I figured I could travel that way (in the local area, to local high schools). Then, in June, I began researching opportunities to be an event planner in Boston, because I figured I could travel to different venues around the city.

            Looking back, I feel sorry for that girl who, for even a brief period of time, narrowed her dreams so severely out of practicality and convenience… And out of some obscure pressure from this imminent ‘Real World.’

            This is just as much a ‘Real World’ as any other. I get a salary at the end of every month that pays for my rent and my food and my transportation; I wake up and drink coffee from 7-11 to save money; I get tired and frustrated and my motorbike breaks down and my packages get sent to the wrong post office and all of it is real life.

            But then, on a random Monday in January, a little over a year since I talked to someone from a Boston company about being a travel agent to help other people travel the world, and a little over 2 years since I read Eat, Pray, Love for the first time, I ended up in front of a medicine man in Bali.

            I’m living this life that scares me sometimes, because I don’t always recognize it as something I’ve prepared for or studied for or navigated before; but, at the same time, there are moments like my trip to Bali where I can look up and recognize exactly where it is I’m headed. It makes me realize just how much I’m capable of doing, not just someday, but soon, now. I've learned that I have total control over my own version of 'reality' and the 'Real World.' If I want my 'Real World' to include spontaneous solo trips to Bali, and who know's what else, than I can make that happen--I just need to remind myself to keep dreaming that big.

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Stay a Little Longer

I'm not good at making decisions. I get buyers remorse with everything, from ice cream flavors to nail polish colors. For the most part, I try to act using logic rather than emotion. Sometimes I fail at following my instinct and I kick myself for not going with my gut. Suffice it to say, I'm constantly analyzing how any given scenario could play out in my life. 

Something about deciding to teach in Thailand was different for me, though. This is the job I always had my sights set on immediately post-grad. It was never my plan B. The only thing I second-guessed about the decision was that I never second-guessed it. Naturally, moving across the globe came with a lot of risks. Yet, I had a hunch from the get-go that Thailand and I would be a fitting combination.

They say all good things must come to an end, and Thailand has been very good to me. I’ve gained lifelong friends I would have otherwise never crossed paths with; I’ve learned how to control a classroom and teach with equal parts poise and playfulness; I’ve had the privilege to travel throughout parts of Thailand that are breathtaking beyond belief.

I’m not ready for those opportunities to end. After a lot of careful consideration (and a couple of sleepless nights as a result) I am happy to say I will be staying in Thailand to teach for a second semester! This decision was incredibly difficult. It required a lot of self-reflection and a long list of pros and cons. Even after seeking advice from others, I realized the only person who can make this decision for me is me. My gut is telling me I’m not done in Thailand just yet, and for once I’m going to listen to it.

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Turning my can'ts into cans and my dreams into plans! Click photo to enlarge.

Of course, being away from my friends and family for another term will be challenging. However, there is more I want to see, do and – let’s be real – taste test before I go home. Staying in Thailand is something I didn’t originally foresee myself doing. Any teacher knows the challenges associated with the education system. Teaching abroad presents its own set of additional obstacles. By staying in Thailand a little bit longer, my aspirations aren’t changing. I still want to grow my own interpersonal communication skills. I still want to feel as if I am learning as much from my students as they are learning from me. I still want to explore Thailand and surrounding Southeast Asian countries. An additional six months in Thailand will ensure that I get the chance to accomplish all of those goals.

With each life-changing decision I make, I think of my brother, Richie, who lost his battle to cystic fibrosis while I was in middle school. Although nine years have since passed, every milestone in life is bittersweet since I can’t share it with him. My birthday is especially hard. I can’t help but feel a tinge of guilt that I’m growing another year older without him. If you had the opportunity to know Richie, you would know he’d want me to stay positive, live my life to the fullest and set out to do things he never got the chance to do. With that in mind, I celebrated my 23rd birthday Thai-style.

I’ve been lucky to make a lot of valuable connections in my town, and I felt so loved the entire week of my birthday. Last Monday, my favorite group of 4-year-olds surprised me with a rainbow-clad ice cream cake, balloons and the sweetest rendition of happy birthday I’ve ever heard.

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These kiddos are too pure! Click photo to enlarge.

Those little munchkins hold such a special place in my heart and I could not have been more touched by the effort that went into making me feel like a birthday princess. On Tuesday, I took my biggest risk in Thailand thus far – I got my haircut! For the price of 100 baht (less than $3) I trimmed off 2 inches and proved to myself I can make it through a haircut without crying at the end.
 
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Balloons are almost as fun as birthday cake... almost! Click photo to enlarge.

I must admit – having a birthday abroad isn’t so bad! Due to the time change, it almost felt as if I got to observe it twice: officially on Wednesday, and again the next day when the calendar turned to the 25th in America. It was so heartwarming to hear from friends all over the world wishing me a happy birthday. 

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Birthday lunch with two of my spectacular students! Click photo to enlarge.

One of my classes even ambushed me with a dessert platter complete with pink candles and a chorus of applause. I truly was caught off guard by their sneaky skills and I was so honored they went out of their way to make sure it was a remarkable day!

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Surprise! Click photo to enlarge.

By the time Friday rolled around, I was ready to get to Bangkok and meet up with all of my friends! I kicked off the festivities by telling everyone the big news that I am officially staying a second semester – all the more reason to celebrate! The fun-filled weekend included relaxing on rooftops, poolside jam sessions and rainbow drinks. The weekend wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the movies, which was my last stop before heading back home to Chachoengsao. I am so thankful for the people who traveled from across Thailand to help make my birthday unforgettable.

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Besties in Bangkok for Bryna's birthday - say that three times fast! Click photo to enlarge.

Year 23 is certainly off to an eventful start. I cherish all of the wonderful memories I’m making and I’m grateful for everything I get to experience. I know that not everyone is allotted the privilege to teach and travel abroad. I worked hard to get here and I don’t take it for granted. I am passionate about authentically documenting my time in Thailand and I am proud to share this chapter in my life with others through my blog. I’m thrilled I’ll get the opportunity to do so for a few months longer!

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

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