I’ve been living in Thailand for about two months now and teaching for just over a month. I think it’s fair to say there is never a dull moment in this country, and as cliché as it sounds, every adventure feels more amazing than the last. I’ve concluded the reason for this is because all of these adventures are things I’ve never experienced before. I’ve never particularly relished the idea of riding a motorcycle for an extended period of time…or any amount of time, for that matter. I’ve never been filmed for a promo video, and I’ve certainly never ridden on the back of an elephant before…until I moved to Thailand.
While the girls and I were still in the States, the program manager of Greenheart Travel asked us if we would like to participate in filming a short video to help inspire others to come teach in Thailand. Delighted and flattered by the offer, we said yes! The videographer is the South African, Liam, I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs. He was a joy to work with and frequently encouraged me to branch out of my comfort zone when it came to ordering Thai food. Because of him, I was comfortably able to peel the skin off of a whole, cooked fish yesterday…and aside from the tiny, nearly translucent bones, that fish was excellent! In addition to him promoting peculiar food choices into my diet, the wonderful video he created is something that I will look back on years from now and remember some of the more exciting times of that first month.
Just a few weeks ago, the girls and I met a kind Australian who has been living in Thailand for many years now. He is getting ready to move back to Australia but took it upon himself to show us around a bit of the country before his departure. He has a beautiful black and red Ducati that he had to ship back to Australia in preparation for his move and asked me if I wanted to join him in the 45 minute commute to take his bike to get boxed up. I feel a little like Jim Carey in the “Yes Man” where he says “yes” to everything! Aside from eating scorpions and roaches, I’ve been inclined to say “yes” often in this country (nothing bad, mom and dad). So, naturally I said yes to his invitation. He helped me safely secure my helmet on my head, got on to his bike and I climbed on behind him. As we made our way down the garage, my anxiety began to build. Drivers in Thailand…there should be warning label as you enter the country and a page on Wikipedia about them. They are reckless, crazy, impulsive and daring drivers. Scott (the Australian) pulled up to our first intersection and took a left. Feeling a bit uneasy and apprehensive, we approached the first bridge. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been skydiving twice, jumped off bridges and crave a good adventure every now and again, so I’m familiar with feelings of adrenaline and rush, but driving up the first massive bridge was more terrifying and thrilling than jumping out of a plane ever was (not to belittle skydiving because that was freaking awesome!). I’m quite certain I said a prayer or two while we were coasting along that bridge. We weaved in and out of lanes, drove between two vehicles countless times (like most of the drivers do here) and oddly enough my comfort level began to rise. I started to thoroughly enjoy the ride and the 45 minutes quickly came to an end.
The following week we planned our first real vacation. We were finally going to see one of the various islands in Thailand…Koh Chang. The ferry to Koh Chang stops at 7:00pm and with a 6 hour commute to the ferry, we knew we would not make it in time to arrive in Koh Chang on Friday night. We figured the only logical thing to do would be to spend a night in the “Sin City” of Thailand…Pattaya…When in Rome, am I right? I didn’t have much time to formulate a proper opinion of the city, but its most popular street merely reminded me of Khao San Road in Bangkok, the only difference is that Pattaya is located next to the water. We spent an evening out on the town, checked a few things off our Thailand bucket list, and woke up early the following morning to get a proper head start on the day. We ate an “American Breakfast” that was mediocre at best, stopped by the beach and began our road trip again.
In Thai, Koh means island and Chang means elephant, so, appropriately we planned a daytrip to ride and bathe elephants. I have my reservations about riding elephants here for obvious reasons. A part of me did not want to condone the attraction and a part of me found awe and excitement in the opportunity to experience such an extraordinary thing. I decided to base my decision off of the establishment when we arrived to determine how the elephants were being treated and tended to. Although nothing compares to an animal being able to live its life in its natural state and habitat, the elephants at this camp seem to have proper treatment and there were positive reviews by others. We arrived shortly after our anticipated appointment time so we were rushed onto the elephants. We traveled slowly through the jungle as the elephants moved gracefully along, each step more meticulous than the last. The gentleman leading us climbed off the elephant and in broken English asked me if I wanted to sit directly behind the elephant’s ears. I clambered past the bar holding me in my original seat, gently sat down, felt the rough skin beneath my hands and the coarse hair between my fingers. Shamefully my elephant’s name escapes my memory, but I assure you, I thanked her numerous times for letting us ride her (I even attempted to give her a feeble head massage). After an hour, the trip came to an end. We climbed off the elephants and lead them towards the area where we fed them bananas before taking a short walk to the stream of water where we were instructed to “bathe” one of the other elephants. It wasn’t so much a bath as it was climbing back on an elephant while she submerged herself and me into the cold water. I definitely preferred the bathing over the riding. The elephants seem to be more themselves when they are in the water and ours had quite the personality with comical pictures to prove such.
We finished our Saturday evening getting situated into our rooms and eating food at the restaurant located at our accommodation. This accommodation was unlike any place I’ve ever stayed at. I can safely say my expectations for hotels have drastically decreased after living in Thailand for a couple of months. Our room was a bungalow style room with a bed, a mosquito net to cover the bed, a fan, a toilet you flush with a bucket of water, and a cold shower. I never got used to the cold shower, but I’d do it all over again especially for the price of $15 USD a night. Sunday was a lovely day spent snorkeling on some of the small islands off of Koh Chang. I’m still hoping to get my scuba certification…it’s just a matter of finding the time at this point.
One of the amazing things about this country is how outrageously cheap things are. When I first arrived, I was still doing the conversion in my head back to the US dollar, so my first real meal in Thailand cost me 750 BHT (about $23). The girls and I still laugh appallingly at our amateur mistake. With a little bit of time, I quickly dropped the mentality of doing the conversion, and I aim not to spend 750 BHT on dinner unless it’s for Friendsgiving in Bangkok or to celebrate a special occasion. Something you would feel comfortable spending $30 for in the States, you wouldn’t dream of spending even half the price on in Thailand. Naturally my salary has decreased from what I was making back home which also inevitably determines how I am going to spend my money. I mentioned in my last blog that I was sleeping with the air con off to conserve my money…that proved to be a success because I spent a measly $9 on electricity and water for the month of November!
A few things about prices here:
You HAVE to buy water. Even Thais don’t drink the tap water. A standard 12oz bottle costs 7BHT or $0.21. You can also refill it for 1BHT or $0.03; lunch by our school costs about 37BHT (if you get a coke or water too) or $1.13; hotel rooms vary especially depending on the time frame you will be traveling, but the aforementioned bungalow cost us 700BHT, divide that by two and you’re spending $10.65 for a night in paradise.
A few moments worthy of mentioning:
A couple of weeks ago, majority of the students had to take a Monk test so most of the teachers and some of the remaining students took a bus trip to the local sunflower field. It was a hot, sweaty and beautiful experience full of countless photos. Cut to, the girls and I are now located on some billboard with the Mayor of Pathum Thani somewhere throughout this province.
I finally got Thai Tummy…I figure I’m lucky to have evaded it for as long as l did, but it just made me miss American food more. I like the Thai food and sometimes love it, but I’ll likely do ample research to locate the place with the best cheese burgers in America and fly there before I make my way back to Texas. I’ve also gained weight which irks me on a completely different level.
I came across starbucks coffee and peanut butter on craigslist while searching for a mini fridge.
Lauren and I wore the wrong Thai outfits to school one day…were blatantly talked about…we laughed it off and haven’t worn those outfits since.
We witnessed students get whipped at school in front of their 2,999 peers for getting caught with cigarettes, skipping school and for girls wearing skirts at the incorrect length. The teachers walk around with sticks that look similar to flimsy bamboo and use it on the students if they are misbehaving. I’ve seen one of the teachers use it on a few of my students for being late to class and they typically laugh about it and scamper to their seats. I have few qualms with either the whipping in front of the peers or the teachers using canes (if that’s what we can call them). I love (even if it’s a love-hate relationship at times) all of my students so the school and teachers are obviously doing something right!
Teaching is so much fun! Thais take their holidays seriously so with the King’s upcoming birthday, there are various activities held giving the students ample opportunity to avoid going to class. Only 5 girls showed up for my 6th period class today so we sat and chatted for 2 hours. I taught them the words “or” and “both”. For example: I asked them “Team Edward” OR “Team Jacob”. I learned that 4 of the five were “Team Jacob” and they learned that Teacher Holly likes BOTH. Of course every day of teaching isn’t like that and some days are unsuccessful, but overall I continue to see progress in most of my students on a regular basis. All of my students make me laugh, make me want to pull my hair out, and make me want to be a better person…I love them! And I think I’ve learned about 50% of their names!
Today we donated dry goods to the local monks in celebration of the King’s birthday. 999 of the boys from the Pathum Thani province offered to live the life of a monk for 5 days including shaving their hair and eyebrows off also in honor of the King. Interesting facts about the King: He turns 87 tomorrow; he is the longest reigning current monarch in the world…he has reigned since June 9, 1946 (that’s 68 years!!!!! just let that sink in for a moment); and he is the only monarch to be born in the US. There’s a little Thai history lesson for ya!
I wasn’t home for Thanksgiving but was lucky enough to meet up with a large group of people from our TESOL course for the weekend. A couple of days of unadulterated laughter, excessive drinking, sunbathing, fish sucking the dead skin off my feet, shopping, and good Mexican food were all I needed after a long month of teaching.
We leave tomorrow morning for Koh Samet where we will meet a few of our friends and spend a couple of days relaxing on the beach. I received a perfect email from one of my best friends this morning explaining that God has lead me right where I need to be. I feel at peace and ease with myself. I don’t have that restless, stuck feeling I had just a few months ago. I’m unequivocally happy.