Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas from Thailand!

It's Christmas morning here in Thailand.  From my friends apartment I can here the cars rush by, the pigeons cooing, and some dogs fight down the street.  The weather outside is a cool 87 with a slight breeze and sunny.  I'm sure that later when I make a trip to the Big C (the big grocery store) I will not have to wait in any ridiculous lines of frantic people buying last minute cans of cranberry sauce, nor will I have to worry that any stores are closed down for the day.    There's a few areas that hold beautiful decorations and attempt to celebrate the Christian holiday, but here in Thailand, it's pretty much just another day. 

On Christmas Eve I made my way from the tiny town of Wang Chan to the big city of Chachoengsao.  My trip was more like an adventure.  First I board the bus to Chon Buri.  I think "I can relax, the bus won't stop until it gets to the bus station! I'll know when it's my stop!" Oh - I know better than to think transportation in Thailand is easy.  First we stop at a gas station.  I don't need food, a drink, or to go to the bathroom - so I decide to stay put and read my book. But then the bus man comes over and says "You - 20 minutes" and motions for me to leave the bus.  So I leave the bus.  Next, we're back on our way to Chon Buri.  I see a few signs saying its near.  We pull over on one of the main busy streets.  The bus man yells something in Thai that sounds like Chon Buri but only 1 person exited the bus - so I thought "this can't be the main stop".  I stay on the bus.  A minute later bus man comes up to me "You - Chon Buri" - "Me, Yes" - "You, get off" - "WHAT?" - Apparently that side of the street was the bus station and I was no longer welcome on this bus.  So I was shoved off a bit late on a strange street. So I began to walk back.  After a few minutes I ran into a man next to a bus.  He said "I help you." It was a statement, not a question.  I looked lost.  I say "Bai  Chachoengsao".  He points at bus - "You get on" - "Nee tao rai?" (how much) - He looks at another girl, looks back at me "You get on bus".  Don't have to tell me three times! So I got on the ghetto bus, no other farangs here.  There was however a comedian tv program playing.  With my limited Thai knowledge, I was able to decipher that the comedian liked to make fun of farangs - and the people on the bus found him hilarious.  This bus ride started out pleasant enough, until the elderly man started to sleep, his head started to bob dangerously close to my shoulder, and his knees kept bumping into me.  The bus would turn and he'd jerk awake, smile, and then return to sleeping, bobbing, and bumping into me.  It was a tense ride.

But then I arrived in wonderful Chachoengsao where I met up with my friend Hayley.  She took my to her friends Christmas party where we ate pasta and mashed potatoes, drank Christmas punch, and listening to Christmas music whilst wearing Santa hats.  It wasn't too shabby of a day.  :)

But today is Christmas.  Today I will help tutor a Thai student, make an adventure run to the Big C, eat some peanut butter (it's been 2 months since I've had it!), and enjoy the wonderful company of friends this year.  MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY!

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Video of my mad Santa moves at school for the Christmas program!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Birthday in Kanchanaburi - Tigers, Waterfalls, and Caves!

Today I am 23 years old.  Before I turned 23 this is what I accomplished with my life:

1. Moved to a different country.
2. Pet a Tiger.
3. Rode an Elephant.
4. Became a bartender at a bar in Thailand.
5. Learned how to drive a moped - and drove it around an island.
6. Became a teacher in a foreign country.
7. Graduated college Cum Laude.
8. Became the President of Sigma Iota Rho and International Studies Club.
9. Graduated High School.
10. Went to Europe with the Spirit of America National Honor Band.
11. Worked as a waitress, Personal Assistant, tanning front desk person, Textbook salesperson, Supplemental Instructor, Customer Sales Support Representative, Dog sitter, House sitter, Intern at the Department of State, Bartender/Winery worker, and ESL teacher in Thailand.
12. Started a Young Democrats Society at Granbury High School.
13. Volunteered at Freeman-Fritts Animal shelter petting kitties.

Those seem to sum up the major points.

This past weekend in Kanchanaburi I celebrated turning 23 by exploring Thailand like never before.  The adventure started with a visit to the controversial Tiger Temple.  Some say that the tigers are drugged in order to keep them so tame - yet one employee gave us the whole schpeal on why this was incorrect.  What matters most? I PET A TIGER! And I have proof!

After the Tiger Temple we visited a market and the Death Railway.  By the railway there's a small cave with a Buddha statue.  Next was the Bridge over the River Kwai (Pronounced River Kway unless you feel like saying something offensive). At sunset, the view of the river leaves quite the impression.

Saturday night Hayley, Angela, and Callie graciously helped my celebrate my birthday and even bought me a birthday cake! About 5 seconds after cutting the cake, we devoured the entire thing.  We didn't feel guilty.  Then we proceeded to do what everyone should do on a birthday - we went out on the the only cool bar known as 'Sugar Member'.  It was the only bar playing legitimate dance music and its sign beheld a giant pot leaf.  A classy bar in Thailand if I ever saw one!

Sunday was a day of exploration, adventure, and exhaustion.  Waking at 8am, we were determined to reach Erawan Falls before the rush came in.  This amazing 7 tiered waterfall was quite the jungle trek.  Each level gave way to something truly spectacular and beautiful.  The incredibly long journey was well worth it when we finally arrive at tier 7 to see the first waterfall crashing down on the rocks below.

Even though we were well exhausted from the waterfall trek, we continued on to Pratat cave, where we were able to get a personal last minute tour of the cave.  When told that the climb was 600 meters - I thought nothing of it.  600 meters is nothing! - Until its all one staircase to the top of the mountain.  I used up every last inch of strength in me to reach the top in one piece.  Also, I instantly regretted having a "Cheeseburger" for lunch.  However, once inside, I forgot all about the climb.  After going through a miniscule entry hole that I didn't even realize was there at first, the cave opened up into several large rooms filled with stalactites and stalagmites.  It was truly awe inspiring.  There was even a swarm of bats resting at the top of the cave.  Near the end we found something that was less cool and more freaky - a bug.  Cave bugs are scary - and that's all I have to say about it.  Once back in our hotel (Sam's River Rafthouse on the River Kwai), I could have collapsed and slept for hours - but where's the fun in that.  We went out for our last night in Kanchanaburi.

Sunday we packed our bags and were ready to go home.  However, there was one museum that we had missed:  The History of the Death Railway.  I learned so much more about WWII and the atrocities that happened in the Thai borders.  English, Australian, Burmese, and even some Americans suffered to build the Death Railway that would aid Japan in getting supplies across their conquered Asian lands.  The stories and pictures were enough to make your skin crawl.  It makes me believe that our public school systems are letting our students down.  I've studies WWII many times - and yet I had never heard of the Death Railway or most of the happenings in Asia.  Had I not been an International Relations major in college, I would have never known that WWII was more than just a European event.  We need to educate our students with the stories from all around the world.  Outside the museum was a graveyard for all the POWs that slaved over the Death Railway.

And now, today it is my birthday and I'm back to teaching.  One year older, one year wiser.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Koh Chang in December!

Koh Chang - the island of elephants.  It's a beautiful, mostly quite place with steep crooked roads, beach bungalows, and of course elephants.  This past weekend I managed to write a number of things from my so called "Bucket List".

1. I rode an elephant.
2. I worked in a bar in Thailand.
3. I slept in a hammock.
4. I rode a motorbike around the island.

Let's start with number 1. As the group gathered at the elephant riding tour business, I took a glance at the monstrous beasts that would soon be towing us around the jungle.  To board your transportation, you must climb up a large tower thing and then crawl over the elephant into the passenger seat that sits atop its back.  My riding partner Hayley and I were the first aboard.  Then the giant began to move.  This is the single most awkward creature I have sat upon.  I've ridden a horse, I've perched upon a longhorn, but the elephant takes the cake.  The group all sat upon their elephant thrones and we marched into the jungle.  Our elephant, the wondrous Som-O, age 14, often took it upon herself to take an alternate route.  This is slightly terrifying yet highly enjoyable.  Next we made our way down to a river area where we took a swim with elephants.  Wait - that sounds way less exciting than it is - let me rephrase.  WE SWAM WITH GIANT AMAZING FANTASTICALLY AWESOME ELEPHANTS!!!!! Even that's not efficient, but it will have to do.  The pictures will say more than the words for this part of my story.

Som-O the delightful 14 year old elephant. 

Going Under!!! 

After an amazing swim with all the elephants. 

Part 2. Sunday night we went down to the Lonely Beach area.  We were dropped next to a nice looking bar that played some delightful tunes and had hammocks scattered about.  You can't go wrong with a bar that has hammocks readily available.  There was a Swedish owner who was either too crazy or too drunk to keep up with his own bar and the mass amounts of Farangs that just entered were a little much for the non-English speaking staff.  Therefore I took it upon myself to go behind the bar and take a job as a bartender for the night.  Apparently the best way to find a job is just to take it.  I would highly consider going back and bartending when my teaching gig is up.  After about 3 hours of this and having a sufficient amount of free drinks, I then decided to quit my new found job and make my way to the beach.

Part 3.  Arriving back at the bungalow Sunday night after an amazing day of elephant riding and night of bartending, I decided I has had enough to drink that I would sleep outside in a hammock with no hesitation.  After applying a large dose of 100% deet to myself and finding a nice wooden hammock to lie in, I quickly fell asleep.  I woke up with the sunrise on an island. However, the wooden hammock was rather uncomfortable so I went for a small walk to find a bathroom (and no I don't mean a tree).  On my way to the toilet I discovered another hammock - but this one had a SWEET pillow in I rested there until a decent hour to waken.  And that's how I spent the night in a hammock.

The view by our bungalows. 

Part 4.  After waking up feeling awesome about being in a hammock, I decided I wanted to be even more awesome. So I hopped on my rented motorbike and took a drive around the island.  At 8am you can smell the fresh air that is often non-existent in Thailand.  The peace of driving along alone and having the wind in my face was one of the most amazing feelings I've had since arriving in Thailand.  Also, I now MUST get a moped when I move back home.  I can't live without one.

And that was my amazing weekend.  I accomplished more in 48 hours than many people do in a year.  May every weekend be as wonderful as this weekend.  I'll be 23 in merely 1 week.  Let's see what else I can mark off the list before then!