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8 posts categorized "Jillian Eygene"

Life with a Bike

Hello everyone, it's been a while!

I am nearing the end of my second semester teaching English in Thailand - time is truly flying! This semester I've been kept quite busy, teaching grades 2-6, instead of just grades 5 and 6 like a taught last semester, and tutoring English after school. But I've definitely still had time to enjoy my time here! Being the rainy season though I haven't travelled as much as I did last semester, but I have met a good group of other foreign teachers in my town, and have spent a lot of weekends with them in Chanthaburi, though also sometimes on weekend trips. One of my favorite trips this semester has been to Koh Mak - an island not far from my town, where my friends and I rented an airbnb and relaxed and snorklned for one of our holiday weekends. My mom also just came to Thailand for a visit, and that was so much fun being able to explore some of Thailand with her, and also show her around my town.

And just as time has been flying this semester, so have I, on my new motorbike! I can't even explain how much this has affected my quality of life. Not having a bike was fine for one semester, since I live near my school, the park where I run and to some restaurants as well. But getting anywhere else not very closeby or at night was often difficult. Beforehand I would need to walk to the bus station to get a motor taxi or songtao, try to explain for about 10 minutes where I was trying to go (oftentimes pictures and maps didn't help) and then finally after the taxi drivers had discussed amongst themselves where they thought I was trying to go, I was sent on my way. Thankfully this whole dance became easier as I become more familiar with the town and could direct the taxi drivers as they drove. I have discovered so many new places since I got a bike , and simply having the freedom to go wherever and whenever I want has been wonderful. Nothing beats an afternoon drive to a nearby waterfall or to the coast, wind in hair, taking in the beautiful scenery on the way!



Round 2!

Back to school!  After having a long vacation period from March to May, where I hopped around from place to place, I was happy to return to my town in Chanthaburi and, and to see all of the smiling faces of my students!  Last semester I taught 5th and 6th grade, but this semester, due to the lack of foreign English teachers at my school , I am now teaching 2nd through 6th grade!  Its a big change, with many more students (about 700 total that I teach), but I'm really loving it!  It's fun to work with the curious younger students, and also be with my older students again.  They are sure a fun bunch of kids!

Vacation Part 2: Nepal!

            One of the perks of having such a long semester break from March-May was having the time to thoroughly travel to other countries as well. I decided to go to Nepal since it was a country that I had really wanted to visit for some time, and I decided now was the time since I was (relatively) so close and because I had enough time off to make the most of my trip.

            The ride from the airport to my hotel was a true taste of Nepal – bustling traffic, constant honking (that’s just how people drive there), colorful and busy sidewalks, dust spinning up from the roads, and the occasional cow wandering not far from the main road. I spent the first week in Nepal exploring the capital, Kathmandu, and doing a short 3-day trek through Nagarkot and Chisapani. Kathmandu is the hub for a lot of travelers – many people come to Nepal for trekking through the spectacular mountains, so the streets were filled with shops selling trekking gear, as well as many handmade artisan goods, fresh fruit stands and an array of restaurants. Trekking was a really nice experience. The first day was certainly a challenge, however! I trekked for about 6 hours uphill, and initially I thought, “Oh my, what have I gotten myself into!” Despite the physical challenge, and the slightly cloudy skies, I was able to enjoy the view of the mountains, terraced agricultural hills, and the many goats and villagers with curious smiles along the way. The second and third days of trekking were much easier than the first. With no extreme inclines for long periods, I was able to take in more of the beautiful scenery and feel very peaceful as I hiked. Trekking was a really nice experience that I would definitely recommend to anyone interested in visiting Nepal!

            After trekking I made my way to Chitwan. The main reason I came to Nepal was to do volunteer work. I volunteered for two weeks with the Nepal Friendship Society, which was an exciting and fulfilling experience. The Nepal Friendship Society has a purpose of improving the quality of life of people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds through eliminating the disparities of educational outcomes between public and private schools, and it also has a mission to introduce environmental initiatives to improve the environment, and to develop in a sustainable manner. During my stay I worked on an education project, teaching students English both in the Nepal Friendship Society Learning Center and in a local government school.

            At the Learning Center I worked with six students aged 13-15 before school each day, to help improve their conversational English skills. These students had already been in the Learning Center program for 2.5 years, so they had a decent command on the English language. Many of our lessons were focused on environmental awareness and conservation. We discussed the importance of the environment, of water, the environmental problems that are faced today on a local and global spectrum, and ways to improve and alleviate these problems. These students were all very bright, fun, and a pleasure to work with.

            The government school I worked at is called the Ghanistan School – a small primary school consisting of just 160 students. All of the students that attend this school live humble lives, coming from families with little economic income. The school is run by 6 female teachers and one headmistress, and despite our language barriers, we were able to share some of our cultural, educational and teaching backgrounds with each other. Working at this school was quite an experience.  Each day I was greeted by eager smiles and ‘hellos’ from the children.  Being the beginning of school, and also the first foreign volunteer at this school, things were somewhat disorganized and still falling into place, which kept me on my toes! Being an ESL teacher in a foreign country, flexibility is always key. I was usually told at the last minute what grade I should teach, or if there was a specific subject they wanted me to teach for that period. Sometimes I had to come up with lessons on the spot, adapt lessons for different age groups and abilities, or manage a young group of students with boundless energy, barely any English skills, and who never ceased to believe that I could actually understand them when they rambled at me in Nepali!

            I have a great anecdote from working with the 1st grade class. One day, when introducing some vocabulary, I was honestly just shocked and also amused
by the myriad of activities going on in the classroom. Some of the students were looking at the words and pictures I had drawn on the board, and copying into their notebooks; some decided that they were hungry and pulled out snacks and giggled amongst each other; one little girl finished copying from the board quickly and ran up and hugged my legs so that it was difficult for me to move; and one crazy boy decided that he wanted to run around me in circles and throw paper airplanes. Thankfully, I got them to all settle down in a timely manner, and then proceeded to do some active activities and singing with them to keep everyone engaged!

            Overall, I really enjoyed volunteering with the NFS. I stayed with Birendra Poudel, the founder of the NFS, and his kind family. I enjoyed not only teaching, but also spending time with my host-family and meeting so many friendly strangers on my daily walks through the neighborhood. I cannot say that I had a huge impact on the students and their English, since I volunteered for such a short period of time. However, I know that with the continuance of dedicated English-speaking volunteers, the English of the students and teachers will continue to improve, and through this the volunteers and local teachers will be better able to share their ideas, and continue providing quality education to students.

            The end of my stay in Nepal was spent in Pokhara, which was so pleasant! Pokhara is a beautiful place, and there I did many activities like hiking, visiting temples and caves, canoeing, and paragliding! Overall, my trip to Nepal was really just lovely!




Birendra y yo

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

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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A Weekend In Bangkok

What do you do when you have a long weekend in Thailand?  You travel of course!  Thankfully, travel is actually quite inexpensive here, which is great.  While I had my program orientation in Bangkok, I honestly did not see a ton since we were kept pretty busy the whole time, and because I was just so tired with the major time change.  So I thought now was the time to explore some of Bangkok!  

It was a great weekend too!  I stayed at the Bewel Hostel which was nice, and quite close to attractions like Khaosan Road and the Grand Palace.  The first day I did some solo travel and explored some sights like the Big Buddha, the Marble Temple, and the Golden Mountain.  Initially I did some exploring on foot, which Thai people think I'm crazy for instead of just taking a tuk-tuk or a taxi, but then I hopped in a tuk-tuk since it was raining, and the driver took me to different sites and waited until I was ready to go to the next place.  This was quite convenient and quite cheap, since Bangkok is a pretty big city.  

A tip for any newcomers or people thinking of coming to Thailand: don't be afraid to negotiate prices!  Oftentimes taxi drivers in major tourist destinations will double or triple the price for you just because they see you are foreign, so ask for the meter in taxis, or negotiate with tuk-tuk and songthaew drivers.  

On my first night I met up with my friend Hannah that I met at my orientation, and we got some delicious Mexican food (hey, you've got to get it while you can)!

The next day a visited the National Museum and the Grand Palace, which was quite a spectacle.  You have to pay a hefty entry fee of 500 baht, but it is definitely worth it!  Everything glistened with perfection.  Make sure to dress appropriately as well!  You can rent clothes at the palace if you need to, but to avoid this make sure your shoulders and knees are covered.  

This same night I went out for food and drinks with my friend Hannah and a few new friends, which was quite fun!  Bangkok has definitely got down nightlife and delicious food!  

On my last day, Hannah and I went walking to find the Anata Samakhom Throne Hall, which took some trial and error to get to, but it was definitely worth the visit!  It has a beautiful and intricate museum inside, filled with historic artifacts, magnificent paintings, and detailed embroidered pieces.  

Overall, it was a lovely weekend!





Solo Travel in Koh Chang

Two weekends ago I decided to take a solo trip to Koh Chang.  My whole trip was actually quite unplanned.  Koh Chang is an island off of the Trat province, which is just an hour away from where I live in Chanthaburi.  I decided to take a day trip and to explore Trat and Koh Chang which is just a short ferry ride away, but I brought extra clothes in case I wanted to stay the night. 

And I must say, this trip was so wonderful!  Initially I had my inhibitions of solo traveling in Thailand, not because of the safety, but rather just because of the quite real language barrier.  Some of the songthaew (taxi) drivers in my town speak as much English as a speak Thai, which is not a lot!   I had fears of getting lost in the middle of nowhere, you know, classic traveling worries.  But I got over these petty fears and decided to take a short trip!  From Chanthaburi I took a minivan to Trat, which took about one hour, and then I took a 30-minute ferry over to Koh Chang.  Solo traveling in general is always such a rewarding experience!  You do exactly what you want and go wherever your heart takes you.  On the ferry ride over, I just felt so alive, with all the time to take in my surroundings and contemplate my time in Thailand Thus far.  

Koh Chang is a very beautiful island.  There are several different beaches on the island, and the island itself is densely forested with with some waterfalls to see as well.  I decided to go to White Sand Beach.  When I arrived I went on search for accommodation, since I figured it would be worthwhile to stay the night.  I would actually recommend more than one night, maybe two or three.  I would also recommend booking accommodation before you arrive, because Koh Chang is actually a popular destination on the east coast of Thailand, and there was not too much available when I arrived.  Despite this, I still loved figuring everything out as I went along, and not having a set plan.  I found a simple place to stay called The Fisherman Hill Resort for 600 baht, which is pretty standard for Koh Chang, just a three minute walk away from the beach.  

All I really did on my short getaway was swim in the beautiful, clear ocean, indulge in a good book, and eat delicious food.  It was perfect.  

The only downfall to my trip was when I was trying to get back to my town, as everything took a lot longer than I thought it would.  I waited for a whole hour for the right type of songthaew to arrive to take me to the pier, and once I was on the ferry I waited another hour or so before it actually left, so when I got back to the mainland I missed the last bus back to my town.  I ended up getting pretty ripped off to make my way home, but even that could not ruin my great weekend.  

I would definitely recommend Koh Chang to any travelers in Thailand!  It is a beautiful place that is popular but not overrun with tourists, where you can have a nice peaceful weekend to yourself or enjoy the nightlife if that is more your scene.  


A Week of Adventures in Chiang Mai

My roommate and I, plus three other friends we met at orientation, decided to take a trip to Chiang Mai since we had the week off from school. Here are some stories from our trip:

Day 1: Travel

We started off the trip on a stroke of luck. The plan was to take a 3-4 hour bus to Bangkok, and then to take an overnight train to Chiang Mai. After we got out of school on Friday, we thought we had about an hour to make it to the bus station just a 5-minute walk away from my house.   Thankfully, however, my other roommate who was also travelling to Bangkok ran into a man who owns a restaurant that we frequent, and he told her the bus was leaving NOW. She comes running back into the house yelling that we have to leave, so we drop everything we’re doing, grab our bags, and take a taxi to the bus terminal, which happened to be a different terminal than we thought we had to go to. We barely made it!

But the stress does not end when we get on the bus. The 3-4 hour trip ended up being over 5 hours in Bangkok traffic on a Friday, and we still had to get to the train station. We were running low on time, so when we arrived in Bangkok we got a motor-taxi to take us to the train station, since we knew they could zip through traffic and get us there more quickly than a car. Thankfully the driver drove safely, because the whole time I was thinking “Oh my, this could end terribly!” When I arrived I ran through the train station, found my train, and literally only had one minute to spare before the train left. But I made it! And the overnight train, albeit the food, was quite nice!

Day 2: Temples

Lets just say that I fell in love with Chiang Mai on the first day. It is a beautiful city filled with temples, restaurants, markets, bars with live music, and beautiful scenery on the outskirts of the city. The first day we explored some temples, including Wat Chedi Luang. which was very beautiful. The details on the temples, the intricate paintings and glistening gold and red colors were quite a lovely sight! At Wat Chedi Luang I was able to witness an initiation ceremony of a monk, and also attended a monk chat with my friends, where we were able to informally talk to a few of the monks about their lives.

Day 3: Temple in the mountains and Grand Canyon

We went to a very beautiful temple in the mountains called Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. The large, open temple area overlooks the city below, and shimmers magnificently with the sunlight on the golden structures. This temple is definitely a must-see if you ever find yourself in Chiang Mai.

We then went to the Grand Canyon in Chiang Mai, where you can jump off of the edge into a large body of beautiful water. It was a perfect way to cool off from the Thailand heat.

That night, we went to the Sunday Night Market, which was very cool. There was such a large variety of delicious food, paintings, and handmade items.

Day 4: Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

This was one of my favorite days. We traveled outside of the city, and spend the day feeding, bathing, and splashing around the water with the elephants. If you are interested in interacting with elephants, make sure to do your research before, as many companies that promote riding the elephants do not treat the animals with the best care.

Day 5: A day for relaxation

Day 6: Cooking class
This was another highlight from the trip. We went to Sammy’s Organic Cooking School, and learned how to make Thai food! We all had some options of what we wanted to make for the day, so I chose yellow curry, chicken-coconut soup, pad Thai, spring rolls, and a banana-coconut dessert. Sammy brought us to his home, which was lovely with a large garden where he grows many herbs and vegetables. My heart sang with happiness as we were guided through the process of making the curry paste and chopping vegetables, all while pleasant aromas filled the air. We first made and ate lunch, took an hour nap in the hammocks, and then we continued on to make out appetizer and dessert. And let me tell you, that meal was hands-down the best meal I’ve had so far in Thailand. As I ate my meal, I kept on thinking, “I can’t believe I made this!” What is great is that we were also given a cookbook, so I am excited to try to make some Thai dishes all on my own now. I highly recommend Sammy’s Organic Cooking School!

Day 7 & 8: Pai

Our hostel owner, who was ever so sweet and helpful, suggested that we take a short trip up to Pai, since we had a good while to be in Chiang Mai. So that’s just what we did. Getting there was literally quite a bumpy ride that had me feeling very dizzy all the way up, but once we got there I would say it was well worth it.   Pai is a small town about three hours northwest of Chiang Mai, and is home to beautiful mountains, waterfalls, a lively walking street with lots of food and clothing options. We had Thanksgiving together in Pai, the next day we explored a lovely waterfall not too far away from where we were staying. If Pai is a place you are interested in visiting, I would suggest staying over for a couple of nights, as this would provide you with more time to explore and to take in the beauty of Pai.

Day 9: Sticky Falls

On our last full day, we went to Sticky Falls, which is a waterfall that you can climb up because the rocks are not slippery. It was so much fun, and very relaxing!

Day 10: Home sweet home

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