Month Ha (555)

So its been a quiet month over here in Thailand. Had I been able to convince anyone to join me at the Skrillex show in Bangkok,perhaps this would be a jucier post. But apparently, after age 22 you cant play hooky to go see concerts anymore. Lindsey Pearson, where you at?! *sigh*

But I’ve been keeping myself busy in ways other than raving. Mainly, teaching. A new school term started, and I started teaching 16-18 year olds full time at a government school in the area. My old schedule last term had me at 3 different schools throughout the week, and then doing private tutoring, so I’ve been enjoying having a consistent schedule. And an air conditioned office. With this collection of coworkers.

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The term “consistency” is not exactly pertinent, however, since schools here are anything but. Some days the students walk in 30 minutes late to class, and other days classes are cancelled entirely so that students can roam food stalls that randomly appear in the parking lot. Ambiguously defined holidays, impromptu sports events, and random religious ceremonies keep the week from having any sense of order. One day I showed up to find an empty office and a post-it note on my desk with the name of a different school and a room number. After arriving at this mystery destination, I discovered we were judging a kid’s speech and spelling competition for the day. We also got paid 200 baht overtime, which wasn’t nearly enough for having to judge a crying 8 year old trying to give an impromptu 5 minute schpeel on “The Environment.” In English.

………I gave the criers extra points in the ‘personality’ category….

Despite this disorganization, I am consistently laughing and learning every day. The schools and kids are just different…but also so the same (same same but different, as they say in Thai). Students bow when teachers walk past, rise and say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ at the beginning and end of each class, remove their shoes before entering rooms…and do things like steal my microphone to sing songs while I pass out paper and kindly tell me when I have blue white-board marker all over my face. There are about 50 kids in each class and at least once every class period I find myself laughing with them (or laughing with them as they laugh at me…as was the case when I had the above-mentioned marker all over me). There are cultural differences, but the students are as same as any back in America; they can be loud, smelly, frustrating and still think they are sneaky on their cell phones. Even though I am the one being called  Teacher (Teacha K to be exact), I am still humbled and taught something new every day….how to hide my favoritism for this student, for starters:

With the start of the new school term came new teachers, which means new friends for me. Meet: Dani.

As one could assume from the looks of it, the fun I’ve been having has doubled since this kid came to town.

The first part of the month, I moved in to a new apartment closer to my new school. Peaks of this move include a significantly cheaper apartment, view of the Kungsri River, close proximity to school and a sushi (!) restaurant, and a landylady who tries to take shockingly aggressive peeks in to my room when I exit each morning. If she didn’t look exactly like Dora the Explora and wasn’t so darn cute, we’d have some serious problems.

The past few weeks I’ve been busy exploring my new area and making a Thai native play tour guide.

Also this month, I took a trip to Lopburi with my friends Meg and Andrew where we were just seemingly one of the few civilians in a city over run with monkeys. The monkeys literally are everywhere. Shop keepers have long tools on hand to prevent them from stealing, window have special locks to keep them out of the rooms, and they run in traffic stopping masses. It was an interesting weekend hanging out with the monkeys and some other dining companions…… but in the spirit of thanksgiving…. I’ve never been more thankful for hand sanitizer and vaccinations.

Being so close to Ayutthaya, Bangkok has been a steady source of entertainment this month. The success of our excursions depends greatly on the weather, the smells, the food, and the hangover, and this month it seems there was an excess of all 4 of these things.

Examples of our adventures include thinking a ‘rave’ in the city sounded like a fun idea (after taking a Thai guy out for Mexican food and margaritas, nonetheless). We showed up to the venue which was essentially an abandoned warehouse in the parking lot of a big street market and for the next few hours we found ourselves teetering around on a scary rooftop, sandwiched between Thai glamazons, tourists noodling all over the dance floor, and an embarrassing amount of people taking selfies. They knew no shame. True people watching paradise.

Another weekend, all excited to be in a nice area and in a new hotel, we took the ‘concierges’ advice on where to get dinner and drinks.  We stopped at a restaurant on what appeared to be a popular side street. There was a weird vibe in the air but it took us ½ of our drinks before Meg and I realized why…we were the only 2 girls on the entire street. We were in the middle of a gay district filled with blacked-out windowless bars, special massage parlors, and rainbow themed pubs. Feeling out of place for numerous reasons, we went to the next street over. What started out as a small market street again thinned to a street with a vibe as creepy and as loud as the gross, old white men tourists. We were in a labyrinth of not-so-child-friendly “toy stores,” ping-pong shows, smoky and special karaoke bars, and disturbing storefronts that opened up off the street to face nothing but elevator doors. We tried to play it cool as if we were yes, indeed, on the hunt for an underage Asian or an extra special massage, but the experience was just bizarre and slightly scary. It wasn’t until we were back at our hotel with a nice 7-11 dinner of potato chips that we were able to laugh about it. We had a *happy ending*, after all.

Meg’s birthday was celebrated in a fancy suite after she was upgraded when they regretfully couldn’t provide the specific bed size she had requested. To sit on an ACTUAL SOFA across from an ACTUAL TV and shower in an ACTUAL SHOWER is an overlooked luxury that I said many thanks for yesterday, today, and every day. We also ate sushi, finagled a free breakfast buffet and walked away from Asia’s largest market with 0 purchases made. ‘Twas a weekend of mini-miracles. HBD Meg! ^___^

This past week was World Peace Week, so many events were going on around town that let me pretend be a hippy. One night, Meg, Colleen and I participated in a meditation service lead by a monk outdoors at a local temple. Writing that sounds a lot more fun than it was in reality. We walked away with sore muscles, bug bites, and a much deeper understanding of how little patience we have. There was also this light ceremony, which was beautiful and required no pretzel sitting:

Peace, lanterns.

Since this was a long and dull post, here is a collection of cute pictures to reward whoever actually finished it (can you tell I’m used to bribing my students with candy?).

^ lipstick on a pig ^

And lastly…..

Kop Kun, Kop Kun, Kop Kun Mak Mak Ka!

This update was delayed for two reasons.

1) It has been a very busy month, although in reflection it feels like I’ve been busy doing nothing. All I remember is working, eating, and drinking. And sweating.

2) Roughly 5 times this past month, I have been asked, “ Are you reeaaallly American? What’s your accent?” ….My English has gotten THAT bad. I now have the speech pattern of a robot, am fluent in wild hand gestures and stuttering, and am ashamed by how many times I’ve already had to hit the ‘delete’ button while typing this. TALK. LIKE. THIS. TOO. MUCH. TOO LONG.ME NO LIKE.

So while I have been eager to update and philosophize and ramble here, you’ve been warned that it may sound like whiskey laced Buddha gibberish.

Thanksgiving was a highlight of the month, and luckily was not the lonely holiday I expected. Four other friends/teachers and I celebrated at Pastor Arora’s house with his family and a local missionary family. The familiar company was comforting, as was having a home cooked meal in a homey environment with a pieced together family when I was missing home. Although initially curious to see what a vegan, Christian, Indian in Thailand would prepare for Thanksgiving dinner, the food was delicious! We were served brown rice casserole, cheez-e vegetables, veggie/tofu kabobs, peas, carrots, and chickpea salad, with apple crisp and pumpkin pie for dessert.

Good food, good company, full heart and fully belly even without my family and mashed potatoes!

At Thanksgiving, we went around in a circle and shared one thing we were thankful for (the boy in the back…who is homeschooled by his mom…said he was thankful for a good week at school…haha how cute is that!?) Anyway, I struggled a lot because a) it was just really awkward and b) I couldnt pick just one. Being over here away from all my family and friends and familiar comforts of home has made me all the more aware of how fortunate I am. So now I am going to write a cheesy, awkward and grammatically incorrect post about the things I’ve grown increasingly thankful for these past 5 months.

Never have I been more appreciative of my family; for not ignoring my late night phone calls and texts even though the cost of long distance calling remains uncertain, and for sending me things like this:

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Basically for being awesome. Thank you,thank you,thank you very much! Kop kun, kop kun, kop kun mak mak ka!

I am very very thankful for having good health and for not contracting Bird Flu (yet). When toilets look like this:

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..and soap, toilet paper, and running water are scarce…one values their health even more. Several teachers have gotten sick with stomach bugs or infections, but somehow I’ve  remained lucky these past 5 months and haven’t been sick thus far. Initially, I was sanitizing like crazy, refusing food from vendors with suspiciously long finger nails or facial hair, and shooting hateful glances at the women leaving the bathroom without washing their hands (grown ass women, I might add, and it’s a surprisingly common sight). Five months later and I’m feeling like one converted germ-o-phobe. Seeing a bird land in the curry I’m eating and start pecking at it? Fork to mouth, nary a pause. Food from the vending cart I saw rats running all over last night? Ok. Not to mention the hazardous streets, with drivers going any which way they choose, ignoring stop lights (if they exist), one way streets, and scared foreign girls walking on the designated pedestrian crossing.  The dogs, the bugs, and the purse thieves….I’ve been lucky.

The teacher in me has to be cheesy and talk about education. Since teaching here, I’ve realized how lucky and powerful it is that we got a free education growing up.  Here, the “good” schools come with costs. If a family has money, they pay for their children to go to a government or private school. Although they pay for this, the classrooms are packed and the structure is questionable (its a law, for example, that kids cannot receive a failing grade no matter what). Temple schools run solely on donations, so at the one I worked at, there were 3 teachers in the entire school and they spent a majority of their time and energy cooking lunch, doing paperwork, fixing up buildings, and making home visits. I have also yet to see any students with disabilities in my schools. In fact, the only people I’ve seen with physical or mental disabilities have been beggars on the streets and in one particularly sad instance, a row of about 6 kids in wheelchairs sitting outside a market in the hot, hot sun with cups at their feet. Kids here are labeled and put in classes according to intelligence, 1-20, and that label follows them throughout school and determines where they can go to college and what jobs they can have. American school systems have a long way to go, but I am very grateful I didnt grow up being 1 in a classroom of 50 (or having to adhere to that heinous hair style/uniform combo).

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Living abroad, sometimes I’ve felt stupid being American. There have been a few instances where America has come up in a not-so-favorable light and a lot of their points about our politics and our eating habits are valid. I’ve also felt bitter, because here in Thailand it aint all so great either….. they eat copious amounts of fried food, there is a 7-11 literally on every corner, and people shamelessly drop their garbage in the streets and dump their cooking oil and food waste in to the river. But being here during the election was an eye opening experience, and one that made me realize that despite obvious flaws in the system, America’s got a lot more going for it than McDonalds and heart attacks .

To start with, students would ask me curiously about “Oy-bahma!” during the election and on the day he won, all the kids cheered when I walked in to the room. They are really intrigued by American politics, in particular, how we can say and feel whatever we want about it.  My friend showed her students all the updates on Facebook about the election, and they thought it was so cool (and strange!) how we can say whatever we want about our leaders and publicize it. Here, talking bad about the King is illegal and monitored online and in print. They have outlawed books and websites, and I am still debating if I think it is creepy or respectful that before a movie starts in the theater, booming music cues, and people stand to sing as images of the King flash on screen. This is the first time I’ve truly seen our freedom and independence as the privilege it is. We can say what we want, do what we want, and become what we want and for that we should all be really really grateful. (Also, McDonalds delivers here, so any obesity argument is immediately made invalid).

Murrica Thailand.

Boom.

And lastly, (despite feeling bad for always being the 3rd wheel on Meg and Andrew’s outings) I feel so thankful to be doing this adventure on my own. I came here and came here alone and every day I am rewarded for that. I’ve learned to be content being alone, having little, and just doing and giving more of myself. But sometimes it’s been tricky figuring out this country on my own, and many times I’ve felt vulnerable and out of place. My first few weeks here, offers by strangers to show me around the city, take me on a temple tour, or give me a ride home at night creeped me out and I seriously assumed every one wanted to kidnap and murder me. Now I’m realizing that most people are just kind and curious and simply want to help out. The world isn’t as scary as I thought it was. And the best part about befriending strangers is that it seems like for every person I meet, I learn something new about the world. Some stories are really sad, some stores are really fascinating, and all make me realize the power of good people.

Some stories to share:

At my favorite Indian restaurant, there are always a few Nepalese chefs working. They are so sweet and kind, giving me free desserts and tea, or pulling up a chair to eat next to me even though the words we can share are small. When I asked Pastor Arora why they would abruptly leave Thailand to return to Nepal, I learned about their sad stories. They were victims of a common scam in which a Thai person (often the police are involved, too) cons poor Nepalese or Burmese men in to coming to “work” in Thailand. These men pay large sums of money to “agents” who promise them a high paying job in a hotel or restaurant in Bangkok. When they arrive at the airport, no agent is there to pick them up, and they are stranded with no money and no way of returning home. Two of these boys were even held at a home for 2 weeks without food before being dumped on the street with a warning that going to the police would land them in jail. Pastor Arora’s wife is a missionary and part of her work is to help scam victims get back home. Normally I would be dubious of a crazy story like this,but these are men I’ve talked with and shared meals with, and I was with them the evening before they were set to return to Nepal..terrified of being arrested at the airport. It was sad to see them go, but she pointed out that at least these boys were making it home…most don’t.

Another story I heard was over drinks with a random Colombian woman and her Australian husband. She had been living in Florida with her husband of 3 years, but after a return visit to Columbia to see her friends and family, she knew she had to get divorced. They divorced and a few months later she was returning to Columbia to see family. En route, she had a 4 hour layover in Venezuela, where she also knew friends. They asked her to come out and join them for dinner during her layover, and while at first she didn’t want to, she finally agreed and met up with them at a bar near the airport. Here, in this 4 hour time period, she met her current husband who just so happened to be traveling through South America at the time. She changed her flight that day and they have been together ever since, traveling around the world together.

Some people I’ve met have sold their houses, quit their jobs, and moved across the world to volunteer with elephants, work in orphanages, or just travel to learn more about other cultures. Complete strangers have opened up their homes, fed me, and given me transportation and tours once they learned I’m teaching here alone. Hearing stories and meeting people like this reminds me of how much beauty there is in every day, and how much goodness in people still exists despite the news suggesting otherwise.

Toilet paper, a cloudy day, air-conditioned facilities, English on the menu, packages from family, phone calls from friends, reasons to be home sick…my list is big and small and I appreciate it all!

And, lastly, thank God for auto-correct and spell-check for making this update possible. And semi-legible.

“Your work is to discover the world and then with all your heart, give yourself back to it.” -Buddha

The Drought

Well, the whiskey drought continues but I continue to prevail. I’m surviving just fine, in fact. It has indeed been a quiet few weeks with everyone else in my entire, hugely expansive social circle traveling while I am working every day. But whatevs. I’m not bitter. I still have some fun.

Aside from saying goodbye and happy travels to some friends, I also had to say goodbye to these magical creatures:

Harder than anticipated, but they enjoyed their goodbye french fry feast too much to feel sad on the last day

Fortunately, this month I also had the chance to say “Hello again!” to a good friend of mine from college…. Sawatdee ka Mimi! Welcome to Thailand!

Together, Mimi and I spent a good portion of our last year at college planning our lives post graduation. Every week after class we drank too much beer and ate too many waffle fries sat around discussing what we wanted to come from the next few months. We spent so much time wondering and talking and planning and scheming that up until I actually saw her in Bangkok I didn’t really believe it was true…that we’d somehow both end up here several months after musing over Wisconsin’s finest cuisine wondering, “what next?” But because of this uncertainty, seeing her in Bangkok didn’t even feel weird. It in fact felt natural, normal, and expected. We are exactly where we are supposed to be.

Mimi is here to teach English in a northern province of Thailand, about 13 hours from me by train. She had a week long orientation in Bangkok prior to her departure for the north, however, so I knew despite her busy schedule or my work we would have to see each other. Her arrival date was late Wednesday night, but without a phone or immediate internet access, our plan for seeing each other was tentative. By Thursday, I was so anxious to see her I found a way to locate her hotel, place a few (dozen) phone calls to her room, and without thinking through a plan beyond my need to see her, I jumped on a bus to Bangkok. Somehow the timing and our determination to see each other worked out because she was located at a small bar in Khao San road, drinking with others in her orientation group. Her first comment, “ You look the same!”… Followed shortly thereafter by, “Wow, your English has gotten soooo good.” Thanks, Miriam.

Our first reunion was brief due to all of their jet lag. We had time for a quick wander around Khao San and a flustered cab ride before saying goodbye again. My heart was so full and happy after seeing Mimi that I had no other choice but to spend the rest of the evening celebrating with whiskey buckets and some besties in Bangkok:

After work on Saturday, I returned to Bangkok to wait for Mimi to finish her daily orientation activities. I passed the time hostel hunting and shopping at Siam Paragon, a huge mall in Bangkok. **Mom: Worth mentioning my small advance towards maturity that I could forgo H&M’s finest fall fashions in lieu of affording cab fare back to my hostel.** When Mimi was finished, we, along with others in her CIEE group, met at an Israeli place for dinner. Mimi’s infamous comment, day 2 of her life in Thailand? “Oy! This is the perfect time and place for me to practice my Hebrew!”

After dinner and lengthy critique of Thai shawarma vs. Israeli shawarma, the group of us decided to go to The Sky Bar at the State Tower, the one featured in the Hangover 2. It was easy to see why the bar was picked for the movie; with a huge rotunda giving a 360 view of the city and river, live music, a viewing deck and a light-up bar.

The view came with a cost, however, my mojito being $20 and tasting weaker than anything served to me during senior spring break. Barcelo 2008 style. There were about 10 security guards stationed along the viewing deck along with a dozen or so Thai women in long dresses swooping around to make sure no one took pictures (except at the bar) and ushering everyone away from the gorgeous view to, of course, stand by the bar. One girl in Mimi’s group was denied entry due to her plain flip flops, so a scheme was created to sneak her up to see the view. Mimi bravely removed her shoes and put them in a shopping bag, which a boy then carried down to the lobby for the girl to swap. The security geishas some how caught on to this exchange, and within minutes they were circling around the bar scanning for bare feet. Mimi tried hiding her toes amongst the crowd, but eventually just surrendered herself and we left. There was a stir of walkie-talkie action as we made our way from the bar, but it made for a hilarious exit and an appropriate welcome to Thailand. The first time it HASN’T been culturally appropriate to be barefoot at an establishment.

It was sad to say goodbye to Mimi and my sassy little bit of home, but it just makes me all the more motivated to keep working and saving so I can see her again sometime soon. And just knowing that she is in the same country as I am is a comforting thought, again putting into perspective how simultaneously big and small the world really is.

Aside from this obvious high light of my month, I also got to participate in this:

No, this isn’t a rave. This would be English Camp 2012.

The beginning of October, i worked an overnight English camp with my friend Glenn and our boss, Oh. The camp was in Petchaburi, a city about 4 hours away and situated in a national park reserve alongside jungle-lined mountains, and a clear,clean river. Trust me I checkedWe taught for about 4 hours the entire 2 days, with the rest of the time spent playing games, going down the water-slide, floating down the river, dancing, singing, and eating. It was lenient enough that the kids were able to zoom down the slides and jump from bridges and trees in to the river without signing a permission slip first, but imagine the shock every fiber of my teacher-esque being experienced when dinner time came and the underage campers were willingly granted requests for beer. My surprise was met with Oh’s calm and cute, “This is their time, let them have fun!”

And so we danced and pranced and sang and drank all in the pursuit of English, and I learned the quickest way to quench a Hong Thong-less parched throat is to gather a hundred 15 year olds around a karaoke machine and declare a “Gangnam style” dance off.

You go Glenn Coco!

They were some crazy ass campers, even better dancers, and overall it was a fun,  eyeopening weekend.

One which makes that time I dabbled with Jesus Camp back in the 6th grade a whole lot funnier. Haha, Kahler, nice try.

Some other random things from these past few weeks:

Generally speaking, Thai people really dislike Indian food.

But they are incredibly good fakers.

The cutest kids come from Thailand:

I really miss this

This

These two

and them.

Aaaannd lastly…I finally located Bangkok’s largest day market; home to Forever 21’s finest reject items and selling all the curries of the rainbow along with diverse species of squirrels, rabbits, and snakes. Also available for purchase? Pitbulls.

Did I mention how cheap everything is here and that I’m a very lonely soul this month? Known for having an impulsive nature and a soft spot for this notorious underdog? Stay tuned.

Month Sahm

Three months here have gone by unbelievably fast. My original suspicions about being persistently hot, sweaty, confused and misunderstood were correct, but I cant believe how much fun I’ve had spending the past three months in this condition. Little adventures make my weeks fly by, but otherwise work keeps me busy and my days are pretty routine.

The month started off with a trip to Bangkok, at first with just me, Meg and Andrew. They had never experienced Khao San road, so we rented a cheap hostel nearby and spent our first night indulging in yet again too many whiskey buckets and (stumbling) wandering up and down the streets. The next night we decided to indulge in something more CuhLassEE and rented rooms at a fancy hotel in a nicer area of Bangkok. Pet joined us, as did Nicole and Brenden, and we soaked up all things luxurious: sleep number beds, cable TV, flushable toilets and unlimited rolls of toilet paper. After dinner at our hotel, we ventured out to meet up with Pet’s friends at one of their favorite bars and got to see night life through the eyes of locals. We drank and ate with them, stopping again near Khao San road for a midnight snack (whiskey buckets) and eventually made our way back to our heavenly hotel.

The week only got better from there, being that at work we led an English camp at my favorite temple school. All the kids from surrounding areas gathered at the school, about 250 in all, and we spent the day playing games, dancing and singing, and handing out prizes. Despite being hot and overly plump from all the food we were given, the day was great and I couldn’t believe I was being paid to have so much fun and be surrounded by so much cuteness at work. Who could complain about seeing these faces at the office everyday?

Since the term is ending for many schools around the area this month, many of the friends I’ve made are leaving Ayutthaya. Some are going back home and others are going to continue traveling around Asia, but I’ll continue working at the language center throughout the month until new employees arrive. Their departures have provided many excuses for us to get together for goodbye parties and farewell dinners, but I am very sad to see them leave. I am in for a long, whiskeyless month without these people!

With many people leaving, I’ve found other ways to keep myself busy. I go to weekly Thai lessons with 2 of my friends, started taking Indian cooking lessons from the owner of our favorite restaurant

       

try really hard to be interested in things like this:

and am still doing ridiculously wild things like this every Thursday:

I have also enjoyed getting to know these 4 faces better this past month:

                                               

Other than these little adventures, it has been a quiet month. I love when I get the chance to Skype with my mom and people back home, as I’m missing everyone every day. The packages I’ve received from some of you are appreciated beyond words, as are the emails and the messages. I’m dealing with some bitterness over missing Autumn, football season, caramel apples, and little Elliot’s birthday, and hearing from you makes me feel closer to it all. Thank you thank you thank you thank you! Kap kun mak mak ka!

Muay Thai, Beaches and Bangkok: Round 2

Each week goes by faster and faster, and I can’t believe that only a two months ago I was just arriving here, playing the part of the scared, white tourist perfectly. Im back to being my tanned,jovial self thanks to recent events that have helped me settle in to life here:

1.Shane and I went to another series of Muay Thai fights, this time at an outdoor venue with the feel of a carnival. The fights were held on temple grounds, with neon lights strung from trees, carnival games surrounding the ring, and a crowd of people bidding on the fighters in the classical jibberish manner. We drank our beer and ate our  popcorn ringside to watch all three of his trainees win the fights by knockout. With all the games, people, crowds, music, and lights, this fight felt like a tamed down version of Bangkok and a slightly more upscale version of Rockin’ Rogers, which many of you know is my favooooorrrite carnival to attend back home.

Despite the lack of creepy carnies and country music, it was probably one of my favorite days here.

2. Nina and I had our own version of the Hangover 2 in Bangkok, this time attempting to limit the whiskey buckets so we could enjoy the sky bar as planned the following night. Although we failed at this, again drinking far too much whiskey, the next day we found the energy to walk around and see the Royal palace and eat at some good restaurants (when falafel and hummus are available.. you eat and eat and eat!).

When evening came, we went to Banyaan Tree hotel, where there was a skybar located on the 68th floor. The contrast between the modern, clean, upscale skybar and the dirty, cheap hostel was savored and we spent the evening drinking drinks we couldn’t really afford and watching the transition from dusk to night 68 floors above Bangkok.  It was hard not to get emotional looking out over river running through the crowded city and the glittery technicolor skyscrapers that surrounded us. Although a skybar doesn’t necessarily sound so exciting, being up so high in  a city like that was a feeling indescribable. I felt lucky and undeserving and overwhelmed all at once, so high up overlooking a city like Bangkok on a random night in August. It was a moment of gratitude that I’ve never really experienced before.

And then the bill came and brought me back to the reality of being just a broke, traveling teacher with a perpetual hangover.

3)Bret Michaels exists in Thailand! His name is Pet and he is kind and funny and very talented, and it also comes in handy that he is also Thai. I’ve grown close to his family over the past few weeks, spending time with them at their home (or homes I should say, as most Thai people live together in homes communally) out in the country, eating,  drinking, dancing, singing, and cooking. Samantha is Pet’s cousin, an adorable girl who is half Thai half Swedish, and my “sister” when I go to his house, helping me speak with others in the family and slowly converting me to a full AZN by making me take too many peace sign pictures with her. For her 11th birthday, I was invited along to celebrate at the beach with Pet and his family for the weekend.

Our weekend started with a long drive to a national park to play in the waterfall and do some hiking. The hike up to the waterfall was beautiful, surrounded by big green trees on all sides with the rushing white water from the waterfall running downstream along the path. The waterfall itself fell into a pool of water filled with big stones and hundreds of fish that we could feed by wading out, standing on the stones and tossing in green beans. At first I was scared of these greedy little fitches, but eventually got the courage to wade in up to my thighs and let them eat the vegetables and nibble my unpedicured toes.

. After this stop, we drove another hour to a beach on the coast where they had rented a house for a few nights right along with water. The house was huge with 5 bedrooms and a big balcony where we drank and ate in to the evening. The next day, only Pet, Samantha and I were up for enjoying beach, as most Thai people don’t want to go to the beach in fear of getting any darker. The three of us spent the day swimming and laying out and playing games on the beach, and then we all had a family dinner together and ended our weekend with a bike ride around the island.

The only thing that could’ve made the weekend better would be if the bike had pegs.

During the drive back to Ayutthaya, we stopped at a few tourist spots. The first was to see a famous boat, although why it’s famous I don’t know and no one could explain to me. Then we stopped at another nature park, just long enough for Pet’s cousins to capture a few (dozen) peace sign photos in front of a big tree. But my favorite part about the whole weekend was when we stopped at another beach along the ocean with huge plateaus of rocks that stretched almost a mile in to the water with big pieces jutting out to form little mountains out in the ocean. We crawled around on the rocks, slipping and sliding all over them for a good hour. Also got to see some new sea life, although disappointingly, neither Nessy nor this guy:

It was the highlight of an otherwise dull week, and being out there made me feel just like Jesus walking on water.

Koh Chang

I am back from my first Thai beach! Feeling exhausted yet excited to share the details of my trip.

It started on a Thursday with 6 of us teachers meeting  up to start what  should’ve been 7 hours of travel to the island. We took a bus to Bangkok, from there a sky train to a bus station, and after having a delicious dinner of pizza and gelato we boarded our bus for a 4 hour overnight ride to the ferry port. After another hour of waiting, we hopped on our ferry with an anticipated 45 minute ride over the island. But in typical Thai fashion, things could never be this easy. As soon as we boarded the ferry, rainy season shared her gifts with us and it started raining in on the open air ferry deck. We sat huddled under towels and clothes, trying to keep dry. We felt encouraged though, knowing that it was only a short jaunt over the island. Not quite so.  When we poked our heads up from the shelter of our soaking wet towels, we realized we were not so far as ten feet off the dock, stuck in the middle of a sand dune.

    

There we sat for over 4 hours; sitting through two hilarious attempts in which the ever so productive Thai people had the genius idea to attach two small ropes from our ship to another one in effort to tug our ferry free. Predictably, this resulted in two snapped ropes and a ship full of angry, cold, wet passengers. Eventually we ‘jumped ship’ to another ferry, and 6 hours after boarding we made it to the island of Koh Chang.

We stayed in three different places during our stay; a quiet resort, jungle huts up in the trees overlooking the Gulf, and small shacks on a popular beach. The days were spent swimming and tanning and indulging in American food (pizza and burritos!), and the nights were spent drinking at local bars and walking along the beach to watch fire shows and the other travelers. Although it is currently rainy season, we were blessed with good weather and got to spend a lot of time exploring the small streets, shops and restaurants. We met some interesting people, ate lots of good food, and saw some bizarre things including a seize of our leftover drinks by a pack of monkeys and two pet elephants in someone’s backyard.

Everything about this weekend was beautiful, and looking out at the water from my hut up in the jungle made all the hard work this past year worth it. Getting there (to Thailand and Koh Chang) was a difficult series of events, but it’s been said and proven.. “anything in life worth doing is difficult.

K.O. by Whiskey Bucket

As the weeks go by here, my routine is getting established and I’m feeling more and more at home. I argue with my coworkers…

I hang out with my friends…

and in general I just get wild:

Last weekend, Zenith, the company I’m working for, hosted a party on a river boat for all of the employees. We spent the evening eating, drinking, and cruising up and down the river, passing by the Queens Ayutthayan palace and some beautiful lit up temples.In typical Thai fashion, we ended the night with karaoke and dancing to butchered 80’s songs that they love so much.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

The following night, Nina and I joined Shane at some Muay Thai fights with the trainers from the gym he attends. Many of you are probably wondering how I’m not traumatized by the years of my brother ‘grappling’ with me or being the practice dummy for my dad’s Jujitsu headlocking skills,  but in fact, I really like all things wrestling. Things have not changed much since I asked for (and graciously received) a WWE playset for my 8th birthday. Scottie 2 Hottie fan 4 lyfe.

We met at Palang’s Gym, a rustic place with a few punching bags and a ring set up beside his home. Although it looked basic, the gym is notoriously successful in the area and was actually honored by the Prince of Thailand for all of the successful fighters who come from it. About 8 of us piled in to a pick-up truck and drove to a gymnasium compound, where we were treated like royalty being with Palang and his gym members. We had ringside seats and watched hours of fights between peoples of all ages, boys and girls. Before each fight, the fighters would preform a traditional Thai dance and people placed bids in envelopes which were presented to the fighters after a winner was declared. I loved being there and being so up close with an aspect of traditional Thai culture, although it was a bit unnerving to see the violence in the younger kids. The boys around 7 or 8 would end up crying after being hit or after losing, which was difficult to watch, but seeing the rawness of it all was part of the whole experience.

These Thai boys are not the only ones being beat up in Thailand. Although I’ve yet to be attacked by a human assailant, this country itself is beating me up daily. At first, Ayutthaya assaulted my senses; strange smells and intense heat and busy streets. Then there was the encounter with the fire ants, who feasted on my feet greedily as I tried to seek some shade one day. Not to mention the stray dogs, the “falang” taunts, and the random monsoons that turn the streets in to swimming pools.

But then I went to Bangkok and took the biggest beating of all, primarily to my liver.

Nina and I realized suddenly over dinner one night that we had a few free days due to cancelled classes, so we decided to take an impromptu trip to Bangkok. Getting there was an adventure within itself since we were leaving Ayutthaya late at night, and involved a boat ride, train ride, and multiple tuk tuk transfers. We finally made it to Khao San road, the main street for travelers and tourists. Difficult to describe the energy in the air and all the commotion packed in to this otherwise small street; tons of travelers,mopeds and cabs and tuk tuks zooming every direction, rows and rows of bars spilling out on to the sidewalks and street vendors wheeling up and down the street selling everything from fried bugs to puppy dogs and dreadlocks.

Nina and I checked in to a small hostel near the main street and met up with our friend Pet, the beautiful tattooed boy, at his brother’s bar. We sat there for an hour or so, people watching and drinking (too much) whiskey. At some point we made friends with a traveler, Julian, who had previously spent 4 years as teacher in Thailand. The four of us bar hopped up and down the street, eventually venturing to what is now my favorite bar, The Lava Lounge. We took advantage of all the offerings of Bangkok, emerging from the Lava Lounge in time to see the sunrise. Our night was fun and hilarious but we paid for it the next day.

Despite our aching heads and queasy stomachs, I wanted to soak in Bangkok as much as possible before heading home. Getting a Thai massage and some falafel and hummus was about all we could manage. Eventually our sickened bodies forced us to catch a minibus back to Ayutthaya, making my first experience in Bangkok and overwhelming blur of people, music, dancing, and whiskey.

And thankfully, free of ping pong shows.