This is the way I live…

I’ve never really taken the time to explain my daily life in Thailand. I’ve become comfortable here, often forgetting I’m thousands of miles away from home, but there are still those frequent moments where I think, “Whoa! This is not my real life right now.” The truth is, I can write about it and take pictures but I could never explain everything there is to know about this place. But I’ll try. So, here goes a cheesy blog…

Lamphun, Thailand

This is the province where I live and teach and I couldn’t be happier to have been placed here. It’s a precious, quiet town in the northern part of the country with a modest population. It’s small enough to remain untouched by the KFCs, McDonalds, and Starbucks but big enough to have grocery stores, vegetable markets, family-owned restaurants, massages, and coffee shops within walking distance of my apartment. I love the community feel of this place. There are only a handful of foreigners living in Lamphun, making us local celebrities. The walks to and from school are full of numerous greetings and smiles. It feels something like the “bonjour, bonjour, bonjour” scene in Beauty and the Beast. We have our favorite Coconut Ice Cream Lady, Coffee Lady, Cart Lady, Smoothie Guy, and 7-eleven Cashiers. Though our conversations are extremely limited, these are the people my heart has attached to. I can’t grasp the idea of possibly never seeing them again. Other than the stray dogs, campaign trucks, and unbearable heat, I am fortunate to experience the best of Thailand here: the customs, the temples, the farms, the holidays, and the language. And the scenery! Not far from me are mountains, a river, and waterfalls. A simple paradise.  I ❤ Lamphun!

My school is less than a ten-minute walk from my apartment. Chakkham Khanathon is no joke. It’s is a government school with over 3000 students from seventh to twelfth grade. Chakkham is the number one school in the province. Many students have to apply to attend.  They work hard to stay here, making their English skills far better than many students in the country. Teaching is still not an easy task, however. I teach over 850 students a week. I have 19 different classes and I can hardly keep up with who I did and did not see last week, let alone who completed their assignments. Teaching English can get tricky when my only resource is a whiteboard.  Our students have been spoiled with foreign teachers before us so having a tall, pale, redheaded creature doesn’t keep their attention like I was hoping. Most days are a challenge. But I can count on a student to say something hilarious every day to make it totally worthwhile. I am so thankful I was placed here. Being able to speak English with my students, seeing them everywhere I go, and learning about their lives is pretty awesome.

Living on a modest stipend can be difficult. Most of the week is spent here in quiet Lamphun teaching and entertaining myself with books, TV series, ukulele practice, letter writing, blogging, and job searching. Nothing overwhelmingly romantic or thrilling.

Chiang Mai, Thailand 

I frequently mention Chiang Mai in my blogs. Minus the durian stands, creepy foreign men, and not-so-massage parlors, I am obsessed with this city. Chiang Mai is the second most populated city in Thailand behind Bangkok. It’s a large city with the small city feel. With the square moat surrounding the historic center, the tall hotels and river on the left, and Chiang Mai Mountain to the right, it is easier to navigate than any other city I’ve visited.  It is exploding with foreigners from all over the world, shopping, and foreign food; but there is still a strong cultural presence without too much Western influence with the ancient temples, street food, tuk tuks, bartering, and various markets. There are very unique tourist activities like riding elephants, petting tigers, zip lining, or visiting the hill tribe people. I feel like I’m writing a TripAdvisor review rather than a blog. Let’s just say I can see why it’s one of the top tourist destinations in the world and I’m thrilled I live so close to this city.

We spend every holiday and many weekends here spoiling ourselves with dancing, making hostel friends, or having fancy wine nights. My favorite Sunday activity is to take a 45 minute seung-taow (mini-bus) ride to Chiang Mai for a whopping 15 baht ($0.50), attend a bilingual church service, eat a foreign meal, buy a used book, sit on the third floor balcony of Starbucks for hours overlooking the city, and then walk around the Sunday night market buying hand made gifts from all over the northern part of the country – all of this within walking distance of each other. It’s become a weekly habit, but I can’t think of a better way to spend a lazy Sunday.

My Thailand departure is quickly approaching. I couldn’t be more devastated and excited at the same time. Lately, it seems I have more feelings of wanting to go home. I miss my family and friends so much. I miss being an American. I miss tall people, sidewalks, speed limits, museums, driving, cheese, reliable internet, drip coffee, air conditioning, schedules, couches, water pressure, and washing machines. Silly stuff. I’m trying to not be too hasty. I know shortly after being home I will be aching for the beauty, the people, and the simple, mai pen rai lifestyle of The Land of Smiles.

“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese

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7 months. Really?

It’s been nearly two months since I’ve blogged. So I’m going to throw out updates and thoughts the best way I know how, as it comes to me (and probably without proofreading).

LUCAS BROOKS HOLLAR! – This is the biggest and greatest news of all. I am an aunt! Of course, I was not prepared for this and shocked when I got the news 4 days before departure, but as Abigail’s due date grew closer, the harder it was to be away. Really hard. This was my first nephew and I wasn’t there for the excitement, preparation, and baby showers. I spent nearly two entire days on skype with floods of family members. That made things even more difficult. I wanted to be surrounded by my loving family during this joyous time.
As I’ve said many times this year, thank God for technology. I was awoken around 2 am to my dad telling me it’s time. Unreliable internet is one of the most frustrating things I’ve dealt with here. But when it really mattered, I had perfect connection. I was able to join my family for the birth of my beautiful and handsome baby nephew. All I can say is my sister Abigail is a boss. And did I mention that Lucas is adorable?

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LOY KRATHONG Magical. Spiritual. Beautiful. Too many words to explain one of the coolest moments of my entire life. We met up with several other TTC friends to celebrate Yee Peng Festival, which is unique to Chiang Mai. Thousands of people come together when there is a full moon in November. A lantern is lit and sent into the sky along with that person’s troubles. It is a very awing experience and emotionally overwhelming when you think about what these lanterns mean to me and everyone else participating.
We also celebrated Loy Krathong the same week in Lamphun. Loy Krathong is a very old holiday also held during the full moon, which makes the river especially reflective and beautiful. There are many reasons for Loi Krathong: to make merit, forgiveness, thanks, to send away bad fortune. Not only is the sky lit up with lanterns and fireworks, but there are also thousands of floating Krathongs, or flower decorations, sent into the river. Lanterns, fireworks, flowers, rivers, gratitude, prayer, and sending away bad luck…Loi Krathong is my new favorite holiday.

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TEACHING I don’t know who stole my children last semester, but I will keep the new students. Though they are the same children, their behavior and work ethic has changed dramatically. About 3/4 of last semester’s classes were spent trying to get my students’ attention. I’m not sure why they’re choosing to listen to me, but we’re learning a lot of English this semester and it’s been great. We had a fun field trip to the Queen’s Botanical Gardens last weekend and I got to put my best camp counselor and Peer Advisor activities to work!

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SPORTS DAY It’s like field day when you were in school. Except it’s way more intense and nothing like field day when I was in school. This is any student’s favorite school activity and takes them away from classes for nearly a month. I would say it’s more about the fun than the competition. There are sports competitions but there are also costumes, bleachers of cheerleaders, and parades. I have never seen anything like it.

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CHRISTMAS TIME I knew what I was signing up for last year. Missing Christmas was part of the deal, but still, I wish it wasn’t. We are going to do Christmas as best we can over here. The office is a bit more cheerful with our little decorated tree. I will also admit that I am usually a Scrooge when it comes to listening to Christmas music but I am all about it this year! I’m incorporating Christmas songs, activities, and cards into my lessons over the month. My students know it’s a difficult time to be away so they try to cheer me up. It totally works. The Thais have us booked for the weekend with Christmas celebrations. Also, instead of buying gifts, Alden, Cassie, Christina, Jessica, and I will be putting that money towards cooking a legit foreign meal. I’m so excited! What is Christmas day going to be like? I will teach my classes, go home, and spend the rest of the time with my family via Skype. It won’t be the same, but I’m grateful for what I have.

HOME Saturday morning I woke up at 8 am because my new teacher self wouldn’t allow me to sleep in. I thought I’d just check facebook for  a moment and fall back asleep. I was overwhelmed with news of the Newtown shooting. Too many times have I watched America grieve this year. These tragedies make me feel farther away from home than anything else. Being away from my family for this long has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. It’s nice to talk with them everyday. But I want to hold them, and kiss them, and tell them everyday how much they mean to me in person. There are parents who will never again be able to do that. I’m having trouble grasping this.

I can finally see home in the horizon. 3 months left! I can and can’t wait for it. Life is going to be different. I’m not sure if I’m prepared to leave this wonderful place knowing I will never see most of these people ever again. But I sure miss America. I’ve purchased my ticket for a best friend reunion and cultural explosion in New York City. I will then arrive in Atlanta March 18th. I’m looking forward to a family, friends, and food-filled return!

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‘Cause we were like, “woaaaah.”, and I was like, “woaaaah.” and you were like, “woaaahh…”

We finally got our pics from the diving company. Since we saw Nemo fish, Dory fish, and sea turtles, you can only imagine how many “Finding Nemo” quotes were shamelessly used this day. Having Aussies in our diving crew only made it more realistic.

“That is one totally tight crew! Awesome!” -Crush

Sea turtles!

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“If you do not jump, then you will not jump.”

If it wasn’t obvious from my last blog, Fall Break was much needed and overdue. After living here five months, I feel like I have traveled to many exciting destinations. With field trips, personal excursions, and extracurricular duties, I visited at least 6 different provinces, and each was wonderfully and weirdly unique. Thailand is great because, like Georgia, if you go north you get the mountains, and if you go south you get the ocean, or as the Thais call it, the “sea.” The best of both worlds! I’ve seen both, but I still had not traveled to Bangkok or the islands. They are the reason many foreigners venture to Thailand. We took advantage of our two-week break to jump on the foreigner, or “farang,” bandwagon and see everything we could possibly see in this country. The break was unlike any other vacation. I saw countless breathtaking views and formed unforgettable memories that will surely last a lifetime.

Here’s my recap of the adventure!

October 5: Saraburi

We took a nine-hour bus ride and this was our first stop to visit a Maconite couple also teaching in Thailand. Actually, we missed our stop and ended up in Bangkok that evening. But somehow, things always find a way of working themselves out for the better. Because we missed our stop, I was able to see my friend JeKaren before she went to the airport to fly back to the states. She has been gone for awhile and it was so nice to see another Mercer face. Also, we rode back to Saraburi in a car (this is a big deal) with one of the Donahue’s friends. The Donahues were so welcoming and friendly and I felt like I was back at my grandparents house for a night. We were in excellent company. We shared teaching methods and funny stories. The visit was refreshing. And it was only made better by an American breakfast of sausage, biscuits, and strawberry jelly, all homemade by the talented Mrs. Jane. Those Donahues are kind, wonderful hosts with a killer sense of humor.

October 6: Lop Buri

The next day was monastery day. The first monastery we visited was Thamkrabok Monastery Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre. I have never seen a place like this. This monastery is world-famous for effectively treating heroin and opium addicts for free by induced projectile vomiting from an herbal drink. Meeting the monks and hearing of this process was mesmerizing. They talked about how most of this treatment is “20% from medication and 80% from the heart.” It was incredibly uplifting to hear people talk about helping other people with such passion.

After that, we vistited Lob Buri’s monkey temple. This place is difficult to explain in words. I wouldn’t understand it if I hadn’t seen it myself. The temple is completely overtaken by monkeys. Monkeys everywhere! They are not in captivity or hiding in the trees. They roam freely in the city and are not shy. And these monkeys are gracious enough to let people visit this ancient temple, for food payments, of course.

We visited one more ancient monastery, enjoyed some tasty Thai food with our new friends, and then Alden and I made our way to Bangkok, on purpose this time. Finding our hostel was a struggle, but it was well worth the journey. If we hadn’t shared our room with two other girls, I would hardly call it a hostel. This place was so unique and hip and inviting. I had my first hot shower with unfailing water pressure in months! The little things matter so much more these days.

October 7: Bangkok

Alden and I were major “farangs” this day. I took advantage of that shower again. Then, we did one of my favorite, therapeutic things, we shopped. Bangkok has unlimited shopping opportunities. They also have unlimited farang food. I felt like I was in the Western hemisphere again. We spent maybe 3 hours in H&M only to realize our stipends would not allow us to purchase a majority of our picks. Then, we ate all the things we cannot eat in Lamphun, or even Chiang Mai. This may not seem as cool as holding hands with monkeys; but I’ve been deprived, and this day meant a lot.

Then, it was time for another bus ride. We had a 12 hour journey ahead of us, but this time we were traveling VIP style (snacks and wide seats). We almost didn’t make our bus because of tuk tuk miscommunications. But, as I mentioned before, things always seem to come together. And we met a kind taxi driver because of the mess!

October 8-15: Koh Phi Phi Island

We arrive in the morning and take a ferry, or “furry” (that’s how the Aussies pronounce it), to the island. This island was nothing less than what google images promised me. Koh Phi Phi is a tiny, gorgeous island with no form of transportation other than longtail boat taxis. There are surrounding rock formations rising out of the vivid turquoise waters. An exotic paradise.

We walked, explored, and ate a delicious Indian dinner. My bliss did not last for long. I woke up at about 4 am the next morning to a terrible stomach virus. I cannot remember ever being this sick. It was ugly and something I never hope to suffer again in this lifetime. Unfortunately, I gave this unwanted gift to Christina, Alden, and Monique. Sorry again, girls.

The next few days we regained our strength at the beautiful beaches during the day. Then at night, we ate, we drank, and we danced. Island life is a beautiful life. Once everyone was healthy again, we spent the last 3 days on excursions. Friday, we hiked to Phi Phi Viewpoint. The hike was a struggle, but it was well worth it because the view was nothing short of breathtaking. This view can be added to the few events in my life that gave me the opportunity to be blown away by the vastness and beauty of the world.

Saturday was an all day adventure that made me constantly question how I woke up in this fantasy land. Alden, Cassie, Christina, Drew, Monique, and I took a longtail boat with 25 other people (I had no idea they could fit that many people) to a cliff, for CLIFF DIVING. We didn’t get a chance to mentally prep. The Captain stopped the boat and yelled, “go, go, go!” like the boat was on fire. I climbed approximately 30 feet, almost crawled back down, decided not to, and jumped. It was both exhilarating and painful. I would prefer to call if cliff sitting, because that is what I did. As we left, we saw monkeys all over the shore. We then went snorkeling. I can’t tell you the type of fish we saw, but they were very colorful. We then went to Maya Bay, where “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed. Although I have not heard of this movie, I can easily see why a person would choose this island. BEAUTIFUL! The water was even clearer than the previous beaches. We watched the sun go down and then headed to our private beach party. Our boat entered a cave where there was music, a cookout, and a fire show. Following the fire show, we swam in the ocean in the dark to see glowing neon green algae. It was the coolest ending to an awesome day.

Sunday, our last full day, was spent scuba diving! We couldn’t have found a better diving company. They were friendly, flexible, and just enjoyable people. Our diving experience was very personal. Alden, Cassie, Christina, Jessica, two other divers, two instructors, and I took another longtail boat journey. We did a brief skills lesson and then dove into the ocean. I’m going to be honest, I was completely terrified. I had a rough time learning how to blow water out of my goggles and was convinced I was going to drown. But I couldn’t cry under water, because then water would be in my goggles, and then I would have to depend on my skills lesson. I was being too dramatic to really enjoy my first dive. We ate lunch on a private beach and I relaxed. The second dive was incredible! A million times better than the first. I didn’t have to constantly concentrate on breathing. The ocean is huge and beautiful! It really is a completely different world down there. We dove down about 50 feet and saw beautiful and exotic sea life, including SEA TURTLES! Diving is amazing!

October 16-19: Bangkok

The next day, we took the furry back to Krabi and took the inevitable 12-hour bus ride back to Bangkok. We did not ride VIP this time and I had a very sore bottom. I was aching for sleep. I was so relieved when we arrived in Bangkok. We spoiled ourselves in this city. We arrived at our 4.5 star hotel with a rainfall shower and a bed I never wanted to leave. Oh baby! I don’t want it to seem like I’m suffering in Lamphun, but I definitely appreciate luxury a little more these days.

That night, we ate Mexican food and then went to the Bangkok Arts and Culture Center. I was completely in my element. I have not been in an art scene for a very long time and I remembered that familiar feeling of being in a museum surrounded by beautiful works. This was my favorite place in Bangkok, no doubt.

In this crazy, loud city, we visited the beautiful Grand Palace, danced on the famous Khoa San Road, shopped, ate even more farang food, spent money on taxis and tuk tuks, and saw more temples. But mostly, we relaxed in our room and at the pool. I was impressed with our hotel but I wasn’t too impressed with the city. I love city life. I love the pace, people, architecture, and culture within a huge city. I didn’t feel like this in Bangkok. Perhaps because I didn’t know the places to be, but I felt like it was dirty, busy, and a foreigner money trap. I’m glad I spent some time in Bangkok while in Thailand, but I will be alright if I do not venture there again until my flight home.

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We did and saw a lot. Thankfully, Thailand prices are cooperative with our modest stipends to allow this to happen; though we did have to give up the luxury of flying. Thinking back on everything, I am surprised how smoothly everything went. Planning a major cross-country vacation feels like a very “adult” thing to do and you have to consider so many things. Somehow accommodations, travel, and activities always managed to work. I was exceptionally exhausted, still have some sore body parts, and no cell phone, but we are home again, alive and intact. It’s good to be back in Lamphun where the people are friendly, the air is clean, and meals are less than a dollar.

My blog is titled, “If you do not jump, then you will not jump.” An impatient Thai man at the top of the cliff told me this as I considered climbing back down out of fear. His English was simple and the statement was very obvious. He was trying to make me stop thinking of all the risks and worries, just go for it. It made a lot of sense and sounded rather profound at the edge of a cliff. So I did it. I hurt myself pretty bad, but I’m definitely glad I jumped. I know it’s cheesy, but this is how I plan on tackling the next 4 months. I worry about finding motivation to teach, maintaining patience, missing more important happenings in America, and what in the world I am going to do with my life when I come home. If I stress, then I will undoubtedly not enjoy or appreciate my time here. I have to stop worrying, stop thinking of everything that could go wrong, and just push through. There may be painful events along the way, but I am extremely hopeful and positive that in the end, this year will be remembered as a rewarding and amazing growing experience.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Fighting

I have not blogged in over a month. There are a few excuses for this. It was partly because September was a very busy month with wrapping up the semester. Also, I am building a life here that I am not sure is worth the constant sharing. Granted, I am still way out of my element and far from Georgia. But I’m not petting an exotic animal every weekend or in constant shock of reactions to my white skin and red hair. I still find groovy things about this country each day: market experiences, field trips with my students, fun teaching methods and lessons, trying new Thai food, learning the language, making wonderful friends. These are daily pleasures I appreciate but am not sure if a blog would convey the thrill I gain from these things. I take them in, lock them in my memory, and cherish them for myself. That was September; October is a different, crazy adventure that will require some significant blog space next week.

But perhaps the biggest reason for my lack of blogging has been my attitude. I wasn’t sure I could make this year sound as incredible as it is without tainting my writing with complaints. I am at the halfway mark of service and my mid-year freak out offered no mercy. I was a constant wave (or tsunami) of emotions. Everyday, the highs were high and the lows were low. One minute I can’t believe I have the opportunity to live this extraordinary life, but the next minute I was aching for normalcy. The first few months in Thailand was a constant adventure full of exhilaration and happiness. That awe started to fade and I began to notice daily frustrations of living in a foreign country. Life is completely different here. Seldom does life feel familiar to my life in America. That was expected, but the constant cultural adjustments can be difficult to accept and enjoy.

Another major source of my lows was missing home. I knew I was going to miss a lot when I decided to come here but did not comprehend how distressing it would be or how many things could rock my world from across the globe in just a few months. There are many emotions I feel, including selfish and sad, when I have to hear about family and friends’ lives in an email or letter or broken skype conversation. I have already missed my sister’s baby showers, my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary, friends’ engagements, birthdays, Rebekah’s softball games, and so many more important things. Very soon I will be missing the birth of my nephew. It is not easy and terrible internet connections only make me feel farther from home and helpless as ever. I miss home and I miss the people there so much more.

Being here is a beneficial experience like no other that I know I will cherish for the rest of my life. I am so happy to be here teaching. My students have the ability to make any day brighter and I am so grateful for them. I am also grateful for the Thai people I have met with enormous hearts who have welcomed me and made me feel more at home and comfortable. This place and the Thai people are wonderful and beautiful, but there are struggles. Living in Thailand is not always a fantasy like I imagined. I have to remember “fighting.” My students and most all Thais know and use this word and it’s the most precious thing. When my hair is a little frazzled and my attitude is sour, there is always someone over my shoulder with their fist to the air and reminding me “Rashelle, fighting.” How could you not smile after that?

Next post will be much more positive and informative. Fortunately, my October break provided just what I needed to remind me of why I love this country and traveling. It has been an adventure with several very high highs that I am excited to share as soon as I get back to Lamphun.

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The Story of the Vampire and the Wolf

We are performing skits in my Matayon 4 class. I wanted to share one of my favorite scripts. The actors of this story are also my misbehaving, manly soldiers. It was a real treat!

Also, this is what we’re dancing to in Thailand. It’s a catchy one 🙂

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A good day

This morning, I woke up at 8 am (considered sleeping in these days), wandered around Chiang Mai for postcards for loved ones, bought myself some new earrings, ate McDonald’s (no judgies), sat at a coffee shop for hours, came back to Lamphun for some much needed grocery shopping, and purchased an UKULELE. It’s the most precious thing ever and even has an elephant on it! Alden, Cassie, and I treated ourselves to a Thai massage afterwards. Thailand shopping sprees are way cooler than American shopping sprees.

Time for a new hobby

So, obviously, today was a very good day. A peaceful day.

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