Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Afterward

I've lost track of time a little has been INSANE since Keara and I left Chiang Mai early Saturday morning.

Our plans to travel down to Koh Samet took a turn for the crazy as soon as we landed in Bangkok. Basically we were led around like livestock onto buses, motorcycles, boats. for the rest of the day, hauling around our 40-pound suitcases and stuffed-to-the-brim backpacks. We were exhausted by the time we finally made it to this little island, but once we saw that white-sand beach our troubles floated away...

Sunday we spent the entire day at the beach. We examined marine life in tide pools, swam in the warm sea, bummed on the beach...but in the afternoon we realized that we'd been a little crisped... so we walked back to our hotel to shower and change and then headed back to the beach for dinner and a show.

There are these crazy fire-dancers that perform every night here, and Keara and I had front-row seats. The things they were doing with ball/sticks of fire were unbelievable...I have videos but I don't want to upload them right now.
Toward the middle of the show we realized that we were smeared in whatever fuel they were using to keep their sticks burning, and then one of the guys threw his baton into the air, but he must have slipped because it landed RIGHT in front of me instead of in his hand. I was terrified. I was sure that I was going to burst into flames at any second. But the guy just swept the stick up, smiled and winked at me, and continued on with the show as if he hadn't just put my life in jeopardy. 

It wasn't until we got back to the hotel that we realized the extent of our sunburns. Oh my ouch. I have never been this burnt in my entire life. We were supposed to leave the island today and go back to Bangkok, but we chose to stay here and chill in the hotel room because it hurts too bad to even put our backpacks on.

Wish us luck on the adventure home!

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Last Days

That's a camel, in case you were wondering.
Noi let me drive her motorcycle. We both lived.
Last ride in the back of the truck. :(
Beautiful sunset just for me.
It's amazing that my time here is at an end. I remember that first night, when I thought that I would never make it through three whole months here. But now I would do anything for three more.

There are so many people I've met, things I've done, and lessons I've learned. Before I came to this country I thought I knew what life was about, but Thailand taught me better. I cannot even begin to explain the love that I feel for my friends and family here, for the vast green rice paddies and bulging storm clouds, for the chaotic traffic, the hot sticky air, the food that gives me hiccups because it's so spicy.

I came to this country with a development perspective. I was going to work at an HIV/AIDS NGO helping AIDS victims with an "income generation project." I was going to give them all these great ideas and help them improve their lives.

But I've decided that working under the development perspective is a hindrance. It's relationships that really's absorbing a culture and coming to love it despite its faults. It's understanding that this is real life for some people, and they don't get to go back to America and show their pictures to everyone and talk about how great Thailand is.

These are my true friends. They aren't victims or patients or even co-workers. They're people and they're trying to make the most out of what they have, just like everyone else in the world. I care deeply about them and they've taught me much more than I could ever teach them.

Today, after I said my final goodbyes to everyone at the center, Olay took me on her motorcycle to the main road to catch a rot leung home. I stood with her on the side of the road for a long time, holding little Katoon on my hip. I belonged in that place, in that moment, and when I handed Katoon back to Olay and hugged them both goodbye,  I think I handed over a little piece of my heart as well.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Noi: "Yesterday, I saw wet leaf"

Me: "You saw a wet leaf?"
Noi: "Yeah."
Me: "Wet leaf?"
Noi: "Wet leaf."
Me: "What??"
Noi: "Wet leaf."
Me: "You're telling me you saw a wet leaf?"

Eventually we established that she was trying to say weight lift, but I think I like wet leaf better.

Yesterday was my last night with the kids... I ate dinner with them, during which I tried to explain the term orange juice. Pretty soon we had purple juice and green juice, and then when they caught on, banana juice, buffalo juice, and dog juice.

After dinner I took some of them over to the little shop on the side of the street and let them pick out whatever treat they wanted, on condition that they share. Once we had our bag of canom, we started back to the school, but stopped when we heard some screeching tires, gasping, and a strange animal noise.

Yeah, the neighbor's big black dog got run over right in front of me and ten children. It was traumatic to say the least.

But these kids are resilient and we still managed to have a great time.

The older girls performed a couple dances on the stage and then we all sat in a circle and the kids expressed their thanks to me and wished me a safe trip home. Afterward, I showed them pictures and videos of my own life and family in America...they were enthralled. They handed me flash drives and SM cards for me to upload my pictures on. Then we played around with my webcam as they all scrambled to tie more bracelets around my wrists.

This morning they left for school, as per usual. I wasn't sad because it feels like I'll be seeing them again next week. The reality of me leaving hasn't set in yet, but when it does, life will be rough.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

These flip-flops

have taken me many places.

My true love for them blossomed last summer in Yosemite, when I wore them hiking up to the tippy top of an intense waterfall. Basically the whole hike was over wet rocks and I was so sure that I was going to slip and die because I was wearing flip-flops! But I made it down alive and my relationship with those flip-flops has never been the same.

Here in Thailand they've carried me through some frightening things. Just last week I was following Paanie through the meat market in them, trying very hard not to slip on the blood smeared all over the ground. When it rains they slosh through the mud with me, and then because this is Thailand and you have to take your shoes off when you enter most buildings, they often get left outside in the downpour. And I wouldn't exactly call them water-proof.

They've taken me on bike-rides through my village and adventures around the city. To night-clubs and Buddhist wats. To church and work and weekend excursions and back home again.

They used to be gray but now they're more brown. The fabric is fraying and my toes have rubbed away the material on top. Basically, they're nasty, as you can see. Even my Thai friends wrinkle their noses when they see me slipping them on, and my dog thinks they are chew toys.

So this is an ode to my beloved flip-flops, which I will be leaving behind in this beloved country. Just thought they deserved a little shout-out before I abandon them forever.

Friday, July 27, 2012

I'm still here

That's what I tell myself every day, because I know the day will soon come when I won't be able to say it anymore. But as for now, I am in Thailand. At this very moment I am sitting on the bench in the living room next to Noi. She is working on art history homework and chewing on taro (fish string) and there are crickets chirping outside and a big jing jok crawling up the window screen. I'm still here.

This week I took every opportunity I could to go to the center. We did the usual stuff, but it meant more to me because I knew that it's not going to last for much longer. Ahmpaa and Nute joked that I should marry Joe to stay in Thailand, and then Joe yelled, "I love you!" I guess it's an option...except Joe is like, 40 so that wouldn't exactly work out.

Today (Friday) I teo-ed with Ning in the city because her school was hosting an open house at a hotel. To indulge the children's English program exhibit, I let a bunch of 10-year-olds weigh and measure me (literally). They also took my blood pressure, which is low apparently. It was a little bit freaky, because they definitely knew what they were talking about. And I didn't. Hello?? I'm the native English speaker here.

After the doctor visit, we sat down in an auditorium and watched the students' musical performances. Then most of the audience piled out and I was left sitting at a table with thirty high-schoolers. It wasn't long before they started taking jumping pictures, showing off their dance moves, and knocking things over, as high-schoolers do. Me, being the mature 20-year-old that I am, sat back and planned my English lesson for this evening. 

Wondering, eating, singing, laughing, sitting, walking, singing....finally Ning and I peaced out and got a rot dang to Nimmanhaemin. I took her to soi one, down which is located the sweet eclectic shop I love so much, but unfortunately it was closed for lunch, so I asked Ning for other options while we waited. She said, "My aunt owns a coffee shop near here." And so off we walked.

Half a mile and two sweaty backs later, we reached her aunt's coffee shop, which actually turned out to be a COPY shop. Oh, Ning. The letters W T F may or may not have been running through my head, but the situation was just too funny not to laugh. We got a free drink of water from her cousins at least, and then we borrowed their bike to ride back to Nimmanhaemin. And when I say "we rode back" I really mean, "Ning pedaled and I sat on the baby seat behind her." If you're having a hard time picturing that, here's a visual:

Classy, right? I offered to be the driver, but after ten terrifying seconds in which I almost killed us ten times, Ning took the wheel again and we continued on our merry way. And you better believe every person we passed busted up. But really, can you blame them? Look at us.

Back at Ning's house (in case you were wondering, Ning is Yai's daughter, and Yai is Meredith's host mother) we had a little going-away-type party, complete with pizza, spaghetti, soda, and ice-cream. It was delish. Yai and Ning tried to teach us a Thai pick-up-sticks game, but after several failed attempts on our part, Yai finally admitted that farangs (or pharangs? I don't know guys. Somebody who knows romanized Thai, please correct me) don't have the coordination to play that game anyway.

A little after 5:00, John came to pick me up. I taught the older kids today--we reviewed shapes and colors and basic questions like "What are you doing?" At the end all of them (including the little ones) insisted on riding in the back of the truck with me, even though we were going all the way to Doi Saket. The whole way they kept leaning over and shouting, "teacher!" to offer me homemade bracelets. By the time I got off the truck I had six on each wrist. It made me want to cry. I'm going to miss them so much! I'm going to miss everything so much!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Dois and deks

On Wednesday, I spent the day with Noi. Actually I dragged her along with me. But I had to see the wat at the top of Doi Saket because I do live in the town named after that mountain, after all.

At the top of one hundred and ninety-something steps we saw this:

Just another wat right? NOT just another wat. This is the big golden building on the hill that tells me that I'm almost home. My first weeks here I would breathe a sigh of relief every time I saw it.

Unfortunately, I realized as we were climbing the stairs that I was wearing shorts. Knees are supposed to be covered when you visit any wat, so I thought they wouldn't let me in. I tried to tie Noi's jacket around my waist, but then a little monk stepped out and said, "Mai ben lai. Dai dai."

Inside, there were some crazy paintings. The friendly monk explained them to Noi in Thai and then she tried to explain them to me in English.

In case you couldn't tell, this painting is a depiction of Adam and Eve luring "stupid fish" to the Bible.
Can you feel the love for Christianity?

As we were hanging out outside admiring the golden spires, some Thai guy came up to me and asked me where I was from. We did the basic exchange, but then he bent over, looked up at me sideways and said, "You really big." Then he left. Gee, thanks.

Warning: transition-less subject change in the very near future. Sorry not sorry.

Today is Friday, which means teaching time! I sure do love my little kidlets. I thought I'd share this video with you from tonight because they are so scrumptious it'd be selfish not to.

Sometimes they yell and hit each other, so I'm trying to teach them "be nice," but there isn't a great Thai translation for that. Also, the cute little three-year-old is just a neighbor's kid who likes to be in on the action. She's adorable though, so I let her stay, even though she's loud and distracting.

After English class, the kids wanted to ride in the back of the truck to take me back to the church. On the way as we were bouncing all over the place they asked, "Where you from?" and "What you occupation?" I was kind of surprised because I definitely did not teach them those words, but I was also a little mad because why the heck are they retaining that information but not the information I give them? Come on guys. 

The problem is me I think. I speak too much Thai to them.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I call this...untitled.

Okay guys, I have a confession to make. This blog is actually a school requirement. I know, I know. And I'm pretty sure I'm doing it wrong, but whatev.

How do you feel about that? Used? Shammed? Don't. Life isn't always as it seems--a discovery I've made recently. 

Thailand has a reputation for being chill, but because of the nature of the culture, a lot of feelings and emotions are often left unexpressed. For Thais, being jai yen or "cool-hearted" is very important. The cool-hearted person is not easily upset. The cool-hearted person never express anger in public. In Thailand, it's important to be jai yen to save face and maintain a good reputation.

That is why people here often seem fine on the surface, when underneath lies a different story. 

Even though I'd learned that before, I kind of forgot about it until recently. But it really is an aspect of the culture that needs to be recognized in order to be truly culturally aware, otherwise you could find yourself in a naive love-bubble. I am still head-over-heels for this place, but that little cultural snack having come to light (in multiple ways) recently has put a small spin on my perspective.

In other news...
At the center lately we've been helping punch holes out of saa-paper so that they can be made into little gift-bags. I like to sit near Olay so that I can talk with her. Her English has improved so much since I first met her. Every time I say a new word, she asks me to repeat it and then she'll repeat it to herself and oi! Next thing I know she's using it in normal conversation. She catches on so fast.

Today I was out bike-riding around the village and a gajillion strangers asked me, Bai nai ma? I would smile and respond bai teo. But at one point I had to pass a big group of men sitting at a table outside, and then again on the way home. The first time by I just ignored them, because they were kind of intimidating after all. But the second time I forced myself to say hello and they all smiled and started spouting off Thai phrases that I didn't know and maybe don't want to know. Then they started singing at me as I rode away. It was great.

I'm content here. I decided that there is nothing that I miss in America enough to make me want to go back. Not even Costco pizza (I know. I know!) or drinking water that comes from the faucet or sleeping with air conditioning or... I can't think of anything else. Really. Jing jing. 

PS. Paanie just informed me that there is "no light" in the bathroom so I have to shower with a candle. That should be an adventure.