Monday, January 16, 2012

My Chiang Mai

When I heard that my friend Hayley was going back to Chiang Mai just two short weeks after our adventure there for New Years, my first reaction was to say "I can't make it".  However, it wasn't long before my brain kept thinking about everything I missed so shortly after departing the magical city. I found myself thinking "maybe" and then "I wonder if they'd let me off work early..." and finally "I don't care - I'm GOING!!!!".  This city has some odd mystical pull on my soul that I can't turn down. So here's part two of my Chiang Mai experience.

Thom and I at Wat Phra Singh

I set off from Wang Chan Thursday afternoon.  I hopped on the bus to Bangkok and was ready to be in Chiang Mai.  If I was able to choose one super power, it would undoubtedly be the ability to Teleport, no question. Filled with excitement, I rushed through the Mochit bus station to purchase my ticket to my favorite city.  I stepped up to the window and said "One for Chiang Mai please!" The attendant replied "Sold out for the next two days". My heart sank. What was I to do?! The attendant pointed out the doors.  Although I didn't know if she was trying to help or just get me away from her booth, I walked out the doors in hopes of a positive answer. I saw a second booth labeled "Chiang Mai".  Booth 2 - Sold out. Booth 3 - Sold out. Exasperated and about to go into panic sad mode I stumbled up to booth 4 labeled Chiang Mai with no spirits left in me.  "Chiang Mai?" I asked tentatively.  "8:30 bus - 518 baht" the attendant said.  My reaction may have been a little over the top but the attendant then received a very loud "THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!!" Feeling my luck perk up a bit - I waited happily for my bus to come and take me away.

I arrived in Chiang Mai at 6:00am.  It was dark, the monks were walking about the streets collecting food for the day. Determined to get a little more sleep before I started my day, I walked to the Lita Guesthouse once more.  I marched up the steps and found all beds were completely filled. I creaked about the house quietly not knowing just what to do - and then decided upon the hammock outside.  Never a terrible option.  It wasn't long before Mama Thom - the wonderful host of Lita Guesthouse - found me and told me to go take her room and sleep.  Her cozy bed was incredibly welcoming after a long bus ride.

When I awoke a second time for the day - Thom and I went to breakfast and enjoyed a cup of coffee.  Then she took me for an incredible bicycle ride around Chiang Mai old city and looked at five temples.  I had not yet been in the temple for purposes other than picture taking.  This time, however, Thom and I knelt in front of the Buddha, said the prayer, and received the blessed bracelet from a monk. Most people probably say words of prayer and think of many things while in the temples - but for some reason each time I enter a temple, its as if my mind clears.  It's calming and refreshing not to constantly be thinking of everything going on in life.  I'm not sure what it is about temples in Thailand that gives me this relief, but I enjoy it incredibly.

 Phra Dhatu Chedi Luang 
Prayer at Wat Phra Singh 

For the rest of the evening, Thom, Wim from Belgium and I went into the city and saw the movie Contraband with Mark Walberg at the big cinema.  It was my first movie since I came to Thailand 3 months ago.  This I also enjoyed. Later, I of course went to the Reggae bar with Thom and danced the night away to reggae music and Sangsom rum.  I was able to see OEG teacher friends that live far too far from my down in Rayong, as well as my good friends Hayley and Marci.  I also met more fascinating people this trip: Matt from England - the nice Hi-5er, Matt from Germany, Wim from Belgium, Gitte from Germany, and my bus seat buddy back to Bangkok was an interesting fellow from the Philippines.  One great thing about Chiang Mai is that you can be alone and be perfectly happy walking around - but you'll also never get lonely.

Lita Guesthouse
My last day in Chiang Mai is always a sad one.  I finally indulged in some Mexican food and ate a scrumptious chicken burrito and guacamole!  I swung most of the day away in the Lita house hammock.  When it was time to leave, Thom saw me off in a Tuk Tuk and she gave him specific instructions on getting me to the bus station on time.  Since the princess had visited Chiang Mai that day - traffic was a bit crazy.  As the Tuk Tuk buzzed off I gave one last "Choop Choop" to Thom.  It was then that I noticed that I was in a decked out, lit up Tuk Tuk with a sound system.  The driver was listening to The Eagles "Your lying eyes".  It reminded me of home.  Whenever I'm feeling homesick, I know I can just go to Chiang Mai - it's the closest thing I've found to my real home, and it's always welcoming.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Education Corner

Today I have decided to write down a few fun facts I've learned while living in Thailand.  I'm sure you're all sick of hearing where I've been and where I'm going next - so now it's time for a little education.

First off - Thai Schools.  The reason I choose to cover schools first is because 1) that's where I work and 2) I've seen some interesting stuff in the past two days.

Thai schools are nothing like schools in America.  And don't fool yourself - the students aren't necessarily better and respect their teachers.  They're still like adolescents who find the need to be seen and heard...especially heard. Every time I start to go around the room checking process, there's a constant "Teacher Teacher" at my back.  Unfortunately, they do not understand the words "Just wait a minute!".  '

What is really different, is the way misbehavior is dealt with at a Thai school.  In America, if a child were to back talk a teacher, he/she would be forced to go to the principal's office and receive a warning that will undoubtedly do no good.  At my Thai school, there is a stick.  Yesterday I witnessed a group of students sitting quietly outside with two teachers standing in front. Since the school normally has some sort of event going on, my first thought was "I wonder what this group is performing?!".  Then slowly, one by one, a student would walk to the front of the group, turn around, and get a swift switch to the behind.  I then slowly walked away.  It wasn't until today that I saw this punishment first hand in my own classroom.  No, I wasn't the one hitting children (although I can't say I haven't thought about it), but this class was loud, disrespectful, and most certainly not learning a thing.  That's when the Thai teacher in the back found a broken off stick, told each student to hold out their hand, and she swatted it with quite a force.  I was taken aback for a moment until the Thai teacher saw that I had paused and said "Keep teaching".  So I kept teaching.  I don't think the students in that class will love me very much by the end of the term.

For the remainder of this education corner, I will leave you with a few quick facts (or random information I've learned/witnessed/think is true but could be false so think of this page as wikipedia and don't cite it for your research papers).

1. Cigarette packages are disgusting.  They show you true images of people who have suffered from smoking in order to deter you.  I don't smoke - but I most certainly don't want to start after seeing that image!

2. Most Thai marriages aren't real. They don't often sign the papers that legally bind them, but rather just throw a wedding.  Also, many men have mistresses. Many.

3. Thai people order a bunch of food and then pass it around the table.  You get to try everything.  Being a food connoisseur, this is one of my favorite customs.

4. It may be smaller than Texas, but it still takes forever to travel anywhere.  There's lots of transportation, but everyone is so slow!

It's bigger, trust me. 
5. Yes, you drive on the left hand side of the road.

6. You take your shoes off to enter most businesses and houses.  Feet are found to be very disgusting and it is incredibly rude to point them at someone.

Well folks, I've hope you've learned a thing or two today.  That's all for now.  I'll save any newly learned tidbits for a future date. Wishing you all well in the New Year!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Chiang Rai and Mai

English, French, German, Swiss, Australian, Thai, American, Mountains, Waterfalls, Hostels, Shopping, Partying, Trains, Ostriches, etc. This trip had it all. This was the trip of all trips.  This was the trip that will lead to major future life decisions.  This was the trip that will ultimately transform my life in ways I never thought possible.  In other words, this was the trip of a lifetime.

View from my train window

Things really all started to come together when I was quietly sitting at the train station in Chachoengsoa. Suddenly a man about the age of 60 and his friend start “pssst”ing at me.  This begins a usual Farang-Thai conversation of why I’m here, where I’m living, and where I’m going.  The best part? These men bring Beer Chang along with them for the ride and are more than willing to share.  Leg one of trip was already going my way. 

Next was the long ride up to Chiang Mai.  In the lovely Lonely Planet Books, it is stated that when traveling in Thailand, one must experience the overnight sleeper train at least once.  They were correct.  From 10:00PM Tuesday night to 1:00PM Wednesday afternoon, I slept and occasionally looked out my window to admire the countryside.  The next thing I knew (15 hours later), I was in Chiang Mai – where I immediately boarded a bus to Chiang Rai.

In Chiang Rai we stayed at the City Home Guesthouse.  It was a pleasant hostel type room and they had a bunny as a pet – you can’t go wrong with that.  Next door was Tom’s Tours.  It was there that we booked the following tour: Wake up at 3am to see Puh Chi Fa, visit a hot springs waterfall, and ride an OSTRICH! I was excited, to say the least.  Puh Chi Fa was incredible.  I went to freezing my ears off to being in awe of the sun coming up over the clouds and falling over the mountains.  It was truly a beautiful sight that everyone should experience at least once.  The ostrich ride – that was a little more intimidating and horrifying than magical.  I didn’t exactly do well, but I’m proud of myself for at least getting on the giant pre-historic birds back. 

Large Buddah inside Chiang Rai Temple

Wat Roon Khun

Puh Chi Fa Sunrise
I'm on an Ostrich! 

Now for my favorite part – Chiang Mai.

Upon arrival, Chiang Mai was much like other cities in Thailand. It’s full of culture – but not just Thai culture.  It has food from every nation, dozens of different languages can be heard walking down the street, and the architecture is a mix of Thai-European style.  As we struggled to find ourselves to the Lita Guesthouse, I had no idea that life was about to change.  I entered the gate to the hostel and saw a gathering of folks around a large table enjoying some dinner and whiskey.  I said “Excuse me, I booked a room for tonight, my name is –“ and that’s when Thom stopped me.  She said “You drink whiskey? Drink shot first, then talk business”.  So I took the shot, and then we took a look around. 

Mama Thom! She's Amazing! 

During our stay at the Lita Guesthouse, Mama Thom never left things boring.  She’d talk about her boyfriend, she’d talk about some unmentionable things, and she’d talk about her incredibly hard life – all with a smile. 
I’ll be honest; I didn’t do much in Chiang Mai.  I rented a motorbike and drove up Doi Suthep, went shopping at multiple markets filled with clothes, food, and tourist gifts, got a pedicure and massage, and celebrated New Years.  But what I really took away from my three days in paradise was how at home and comfortable I felt doing absolutely nothing but walk around, meet new people, and relax at the crazy Lita Guesthouse with Thom and backpackers passing through.  I felt like I was where I needed to be and didn’t need to look much further. I even spoke to some who had come to Lita Guesthouse for only a night or two…and had stayed a week or two or three.  

View of Chiang Mai from Doi Suthep

New Years in Chiang Mai

I can’t summarize in words exactly how I felt about Chiang Mai.  All I know is that when I got to the train station to leave back to Wang Chan, I cried a little (on the inside of course). I had found where I wanted to be, and I had to leave.  But if things go my way – I’ll be there many more times in the near future.  Cheers!