Sunday, November 27, 2011

Living My Life

Most people are constantly thinking “Man, I wish I had their life”.  I’ve been guilty of it in the past.  Every time I heard someone say they were going abroad and seeing the world I would say “One day I’ll get there”.  This year is that “One day”.  Back in the early spring time I was completely discontent with life.  Constantly daydreaming and working a meaningless job that just barely paid any bills; I finally decided that now was the time to make my move.  The timing wasn’t perfect.  I didn’t even have the money, yet I was determined that I had to do this now or never.  One day I just looked online, found a program to teach abroad, and sent in my application before I could reason myself out of it.  I’ve tried to do the sensible, responsible thing for so many years, but I felt like this was my year to do something crazy, spontaneous, and for me. 

This is the beginning of my second month in Thailand.  I’m sitting in my office, looking out the window of my non-air conditioned office and making a lesson plan for next week.  I teach 11,12, 13, and 14 year olds English.  Sometimes I get frustrated because things are simply lost in translation here – but I’ve yet to be angry or cynical a single day here.  I’m so incredibly happy that I’m able to let go of things that would normally drive me up the wall back in the states.  My perspective of life itself is dramatically changed. 

It’s not Thailand.  It’s not my job.  It’s not the people I’m around here.  It’s the fact that I finally did it.  Just sitting here in this office I’m not thinking about where I’d rather be – because right now, this is exactly where I want to be.  I’m not envious, and I’m not jealous.  Right now I want my job, my office, my life.  For years all I could talk about was the jobs I wanted, the places I wanted to go, and the things I wanted to see and do.  For once, I finally feel like I’ve taken a gigantic step forward in the right direction. 

Each time I get online and see what everyone else’s weekend was like.  They’re all baking for the holidays, visiting friends in other cities, having movie nights at home with their significant other – and they’re happy.  Before I would have been jealous of this happiness, but now I’ve found what makes me happy.  I love my family and my friends, and I do miss them, but this is what I’ve needed to do for so long.  Yesterday I sat at the back of a train going to Bangkok with no rails or doors holding me inside.  The entire time I was in such awe of everything I saw.  All I could think was “how could anyone not want to be exactly where I am right now – how could you not want to be me?”.   I live in a shack; I make about 600 US dollars a month; I travel by cramped trucks, buses, and trains without a safety feature in sight.  America always claims to be the land of the free – but I’ve never felt freer than right now. 

I know that many people would not like Thailand.  They would look at the dirty streets and be disgusted.  They would be aggravated that the people are not able to speak English.  They would be sick at the sight and smell of many of the foods and markets.  Each person has their own kind of happy place.  I’m just happy that I finally found mine. 

So here I am, living in Thailand, living my life the way I always wanted. 

The 'Scenic' Route

Scenic: Of relating to natural scenery; representing an action, event, or episode.

Scenic is exactly what this weekend was.

Our first leg of the journey began in Wang Chan and to Bangkok.  Arriving approximately one hour late (on time in Thailand), we boarded the bus where the movie collection of Fast and Furious 5 and X-Men 4 were offered for our viewing pleasure - in Thai of course.  Next we took the Skytrain and a taxi to Samut Prakan where we met up with other OEG teachers.  Then we proceeded to a lovely bar called 4X4 off road.  The details are fuzzy - let's proceed to the good part of the weekend.

For our second day of traveling, we found ourselves at the Bangkok train station attempting to get to Lopburi for the yearly Monkey Banquet. However, the trains seemed to be working against us and we instead took an incredibly long trip up to Lopburi by van.  Good company - terrible traffic.  Eventually we made our way up the Lopburi Inn Hotel.  Monkey statues everywhere!

Our first night in Lopburi was like a reunion.  It's been one month since we've left the OEG orientation safety net of friends - and this weekend we were able to recreate the scene.  Outside of the Noom hostel bar the street was covered in Farang teachers eagerly chatting off each others ears and buying another round.  After one month of teaching, you definitely have some stories saved up for telling!

Now here's the best part of the weekend: Sunday.  I know I normally hate Sunday with all the bus stations and hours spent leaving behind good friends - but this weekend was quite the surprise. First, we were bombarded with monkeys.  The old city of ruins called Lopburi is known for its insane monkey population.  Each year they hold a banquet and provide tables of food (everything from fruit to candy) for the monkeys to indulge in.  As if looking at ancient ruins isn't cool enough (because I do love a good history lesson) we were able to get up close and personal with the creatures that inhabit them.  It's hard to even describe exactly how exciting this experience is.  If you get fairly brave (or you're just mental) you can get closer and have a few jump up on your shoulders for a light snack.  Here's a few pictures of our experience that might better summarize the intensity of this monkey buffet.

Last came the part that normally I hate - the departure.  We bought our train tickets back to Bangkok and boarded around 3:30 - again, about an hour late, yet somehow on time.    As the train took off, I couldn't help but admire the countryside of Thailand.  As someone who is not used to the city life, I have to appreciate the moments I get where there's nothing in sight but fields and mountains in the backdrop.  As we proceeded back south, however, the water levels began rising in the fields.  For the past month I've seen news reports continuously discussing the flooding around the Bangkok area but until this weekend it never truly set in.  Without seeing the destruction up close and personal, I never really saw it as a problem.  Sometimes when you're not directly affected, you tend to overlook just how awful a situation really is.  This changed for me today.  I saw family boarding a boat to paddle down to the market and children playing on small floaties in the deadly waters.  Shacks were halfway submerged and yet the people continued their lives.  As the train passed by they still smiled and waved at the silly Farangs hanging off the back of a train. Once again, a picture says a thousand words.  Unfortunately, I was unable to capture any real moments in the flood.  The mental pictures I took will definitely last me a life time.  Looking at the devastation not even a foot away can make you thinking about just how good you have it in life sometimes.  I often find it funny when people complain that the shower doesn't have hot water, and there are people living so close to them that no longer even have a home.  I thought by now the flood situation would be under control and mostly distinguished, but I guess when it comes to nature, you really have little to no control.

Sitting on the back of the train steps looking out at Thailand reminded me of why I came here.  I'm not here to party, I'm not here to waste time until the economy gets better back in the states and find a real job - I'm here because I want to be here.  I'm here because I want to find out exactly what kind of a person I am, and what kind of a person I have the potential to be.  There are thousands of opportunities here in Thailand to do something worthwhile.  I'll take the cold showers.  I'll take living in a shack.  I'm happy now even though I have much less.  Thailand - you've taught me so much already, and I can't wait to spend the next 5 (maybe longer!) months with you.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Thailand Thanksgiving

Sports Day, Massage, Karaoke in the football field.

This year's Thanksgiving was something to be thankful for indeed.  At a cool 30 degrees Celsius  the school had "Sports Day".  It is much like the Field Day that schools back in the states put on.  There's Sepak Takraw, Volleyball, Track, Football (Soccer), and Dance offs. It's a perfect excuse not to have school for two days at the end of the week!

Each team - Red, Yellow, Pink, and Blue - created there own design for stands.

The yellow team begins their race! 

And of course, team RED is the best! 

After Sports Day 1, I was able to go to my first ever Thai massage at the local hospital.  Thanks to our wonderful after school tutoring group, I just now discovered that they do give massages in Wang Chan.  Let's just say - This made my month. I've been searching frantically in each city for a massage and each time some terrible excuse came up not to get one!  But not today! 

The Thai massage is both painful and relaxing.  The masseuse prodded and pushed down on every pressure point - and every time I winced in pain I swear she pushed harder and longer! Sometimes I thought I would have to move or cry out in pain, but when she let go I would feel a thousand times better.  My advice is to NOT go when you're still incredibly sore from a kickboxing work out.  It felt like the woman grabbed a handful of thigh muscle and would tear it straight out at any second.  After the massage, my mood improved, I felt energetic, and I wanted more.  I'm thinking for 150 baht an hour, this will be a weekly occurrence one I start getting paid (which is next week!!!). 

The last part of the evening involved a giant buffet for all the teachers out on the football field.  Here we enjoyed whiskey and soda water....and karaoke.  Thankfully I didn't feel the courage to sing until after the principal and coordinator had left the area.  Sometimes learning the lyrics while on stage isn't a good thing.  However, with the sound system they had set up, I'm pretty sure you still hear me across town singing about bitches, ho's, and getting wasted.  Thank you popular music selections of 2012. 

The karaoke after party group!

Monday, November 21, 2011

My Mai Pen Rai Kryptonite: Bus Stations

After many blogs discussing how amazing Thailand is, I have finally found its one fault. Bus Stations.  I can be completely care free from a wonderful weekend filled with friends and Chang - and then I arrive at the bus station to make my way home and I lose all of my calm.  Maybe its because I'm just angry to have to leave the good times - I mean, who wants to wait an entire 5 days before I get to go do something else amazing?! Geez!

But to sum up the weekend I:

1. Went to an English competition in Klaeng, Rayong with my school.  This morning Wangchanwittaya had an amazing amount of trophies. Go students - I knew you were learning something!

2. Hopped on the bus to Chanthaburi.

3. Went to an amazing waterfall and swam with some creepy fish.  Thai locals found it hysterical to throw beans in the water and watch the white kids scream in terror as the fish flopped frantically about.

4. Went out on the town in Chanthaburi - we went to Night Club. Not a night club - a night club called Night Club! It's legit. Went somewhere else. Hopped on a moped to get back.

5. Woke up. Got Pizza. Yum, cheese.

6. Had to leave :(

7: Got to bus station. Did not have time to get my first Thai massage that I've been promising myself. Extra frowny face. :( :( :(

8. Lost my Mai Pen Rai flew out the bus window.

9. Paid 500 Baht to get a taxi back to Wang Chan so I could teach in the morning. :( :( :(

10. Calmed down. I'm in Thailand. Everything will be okay.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Loi Krathong via the International Station Wagon

Tonight was the magical night of Loi Krathong in Thailand.  All day students were working on creating their Krathong to set free in some nearby body of water.  These Krathongs are made from a banana branch thing (yes very technical terms) and covered in intricately folded leaves and flowers.  Some girls even brought out a sowing kit for precision.  Although the boys often put in less effort, they also made quite beautiful Krathongs.

Around 7pm we started our way to the festival in little Wang Chan.  However, it wasn't long before we were en-route to another destination where the bigger festival could be found.  And yes, this is where the International Station Wagon comes in.  Pe-Oh drove this antique (awesome) vehicle and piled us about 11 people deep.  Two us were English speaking Americans, a few of us where Chinese speaking Chinese, and the rest were Thai speaking Thais.  We may not have known what was going on exactly, but we were able to gladly share each others company on such a special occasion in Thailand.

When someone releases their Krathong into the waters, they make a prayer and release their past grievances, anger and other bad parts of yourself.  I used this time to remind myself that I just need to chill out sometimes.  Instead of constantly thinking about my next move in life, and what I'm going to do 6 months from now, I need to think in the present.  My bad part is that I can dwell on something so insignificant and let it bog me down in the long run.  So in honor of Loi Krathong, I promise I will try to just chill for the next 6 months and not worry about my next big move and where I'll be a year from now.  I will live for today and still maintain full responsibility and dedication to the students who need me now - even if I'm sometimes just there for them to get a good laugh at me :)

Happy Loi Krathong, Thailand!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Oh, Koh Samet

This week's adventure took us down to the small island of Koh Samet, just off the coast of Rayong, Thailand. Previous to this I had a few assumptions about Thailand:

1. That old men come here for young women.
2. It's full of piles of filth but for some reason you accept it gladly.
3. People like to party.

Without any hesitation, I can say that all these things still remain to be true. Koh Samet is no exception to the rule.  The only addition is, even the "Farang" women go after a nice muscular Thai man!

Koh Samet (or Samed) is gorgeous.  It's full of energy, delicious food, and dingy bars/clubs that fit every partiers need.  If things get a little out of hand and you're not able to walk up the mountain of stairs to your room at 3am, crawl on the nearest pool table (I'm sure no one would mind too much). The one road that travels from one end of the island to another is complete shit - but makes an amazing ATV trip.  Just be careful when you hit a ditch at the bottom of a large hill going full speed.  The person on the back of your ATV may have a few choice words for you (and lose their sunglasses).  The sand squeaks because its so fine. The fire shows are awe inspiring (even if the little 8 year old boys handling the fire think they're the bees knees).

If you need a cheap weekend you can find a crummy hotel for about 400 baht a night.  Just find the mermaid on the rock and you're headed in the right direction.  I just hope you don't mind walking up a mountain and using communal bathrooms and showers. It may not be glamorous - but it's a damn good time, and I highly recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind stepping out of their fancy pants.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sepak Takraw: The Ultimate Sport

Many 'Westerners' love sports - simple sports such as American football, real football, soccer, volleyball, baseball, tennis, etc.  Today, however, I found a whole new sport.  It's called Sepak Takraw, and it's amazing.

A combination of the western sports of football/soccer, volleyball, hacky sack, and karate! These high school athletes were kicking well over their heads, leaping feet in the air, and knocking the ball around using only their feet and heads.  Needless to say, I was impressed.

This Thai sport of Sepak Takraw seems entirely too dangerous.  Sure, many sports have their dangers - mostly the danger of just getting crushed by some other giant athlete or twisting an ankle - but on many occasions you could hear the flock of students ooo-ing and aww-ing in surprise by the game.  About every 30 seconds the ball would come flying into the crowd due to a kick with just a tad bit too much power.  And as the picture below describes, the players themselves came close to impact.  

Thai students.  I commend you on an excellent game of Sepak Takraw - and thank you for not hitting me with the ball.