The Perks of Being a Sunflower

The Perks of Being a Sunflower

January 26th, 2016. The weather is the nicest it’s been since I’ve arrived in Thailand: 70 degrees with a slight breeze. I walk home from school in a mid-length skirt, a short-sleeved, cotton blouse and a lightweight, beautifully-patterned scarf picked up during my time in Barcelona two years prior. Students wave to me as I meander down the street. “Goodbye, Teacher Erin! Goodbye!” they shout as they sprint past me. I wave back and smile broadly: “Goodbye! See you tomorrow!” I shout the words for the sake of shouting.

Today, the weather strikes a chord with me, and as I wait to cross the busy road, I pause to reflect on it. Today, the weather has accomplished a sort of balance: I am not greeted by a chilling rain, as I have been for the past few days, and I don’t feel as if I might suffocate in the still and stifling heat, as I have for the past few months. It feels like an early fall afternoon at home, and I couldn’t be more content. I turn my face up to the sun.

Currently, it’s 6:12pm, and the sun has begun its daily descent. I sit at the makeshift desk in my apartment staring out of the door that leads to my dusty balcony and the busy road below. I’m letting the bugs in, but I don’t care because the fresh air is worth fifty flies and two gigantic spiders. I trust the lizard I’ve been rooming with for the past few weeks will take care of them.

I’m ruminating on moments—small moments in particular—and how they can affect you so monumentally. Of course, my move to Thailand as a whole has been monumental, but it’s the little moments—moments that perhaps could just as easily happen at home—that feel the most monumental to me: small, lacy moments that glue themselves onto my heart and influence me in ways I cannot express.

This weekend, I took a trip to Lopburi and Ayutthaya with three of my friends. Both cities make for excellent daytrips from Bangkok, or if you’re like us and want to get away for an entire weekend, you can easily combine the two.

Saturday morning, we decided to take the 8:30am express (air-conditioned) train from Hua Lamphong Railway Station in Bangkok for 374 baht each. We couldn’t believe the excessive jump from the standard train’s fare—a mere 20 baht for no air-conditioning—but we weren’t in the mood to wait for another hour or shoulder the burden of potential heatstroke. Three stop-and-go hours later, we arrived in Lopburi and wandered across the street to Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, where we ran into a group of Matthayom 4 (10th grade) girls who wanted to interview us and give us a tour of the temple as part of a class project. We readily accepted, and I almost died from laughter when she told us: “This temple was built… a long time ago.”

After wandering through the impressive ruins for close to an hour (with the impending threat of heatstroke fast approaching), we made a detour to 7/11 before heading to Prang Sam Yot—a temple known for its wild monkeys (yes, monkeys). When we arrived at Prang Sam Yot (aka The Monkey Temple), a kind, weather-beaten man took us under his wing and showed us how to feed the monkeys with the corn we had bought at the entrance of the ruins. The monkeys had no qualms about leaping onto us and pulling at our earrings and hair clips, and one monkey was particularly enthralled by the buttons on my cardigan. Thankfully, our impromptu tour guide carried a large stick and shooed the monkeys away before they could cause any physical or monetary damage.

As I sat on the train from Lopburi to Ayutthaya, I leaned my head back and, through tired eyes, watched the rural landscape blur past. I felt the incessant sun beat down on my bare legs, and I listened as men and women wandered down the aisles selling mangos and sticky rice. I imagined my legs were melting into the plastic seat. After a short nap, I was re-welcomed into the world around me, and my mouth felt like I had swallowed forty Q-Tips. My eyelids still drooped heavily, and as I shifted my legs to reposition myself, the seat gave out and sank three inches towards the floor. Stef and I stared wide-eyed at each other before I broke out into a magnificent grin.

When we got off at the Ayutthaya train station, we immediately hopped into a miniature songthaew to take us to our hostel. After a much-needed shower, we headed to the Street Lamp bar and restaurant in search of live music. I chowed on delicious green curry and consumed a few glasses of wine, but unfortunately, the music wasn’t exactly up-to-par. Don’t worry though (!!!), we quickly moved on to the Jazz Bar a few doors down.

After spending the majority of my weekends in Bangkok, it was strange to see everything begin to shut down around midnight, but we were eager to call it an early night anyway in order to be refreshed for temple-touring in the morning. We wandered into the closest 7/11 (#snackpot), and then stared at the deserted street wondering how we were going to make it home. Thankfully, we stumbled upon four motorbike taxis and agreed they were our best bet in getting home.

The wind whipped at my cheeks, drying out my mouth, and tangled my hair into unruly knots. I was laughing so hard, my head and lungs felt as if they might explode. The four of us—each attached to the back of separate motorbike taxis— looked like parasitic leeches latched on to unsuspecting taxi drivers, and I couldn’t help but to laugh at the absurdity of our situation. The darkened world sped past us as we made our way back to our hostel, but as I felt the motorbike rattle beneath me and listened to my friends’ contagious laughter, I felt entirely consumed in this brief but significant moment.

The next morning, over instant coffee and toast smeared with butter and orange marmalade, my friends and I laughed at our mode of transportation home the night before. “Call me crazy,” I said, “but I was totally reminded of that scene… in that movie… the one with the kids…” I was getting nowhere fast. “And in that moment… we were infinite,” I quoted. Immediately, one of my (anonymous) friends shouted: “The Perks of Being a Sunflower!” (#nailedit).

What a rarity it is to feel so entirely aware and present in a single moment… what magic.

The city of Ayutthaya and its ruins were awe-inspiring. We rented a tuk-tuk for 300 baht each, and we were able to see five of the most well-known ruins, including Wat Yai Chaimongkon, Wat Phra Mahathat, and Wat Phra Si Sanphet before heading home to Bangkok. The day was slightly rainy, but it’s hard not to appreciate the immensity and history of temple ruins—particularly in Southeast Asia—no matter the weather.

By now, it is 7:04pm, the sun has set completely, and I must rise to shut and lock my balcony door. A cool wind sweeps in through the cracks and chills my toes, and I wrap myself in an oversized blanket. Checking the weather app on my phone, I can rest assured Bang Kaeo will be back to a blistering 85 degrees tomorrow… but we will just have to wait and see what the future really holds.

I’m afraid of looking too far ahead; I’m afraid of letting another day rush past me without truly experiencing it. Sure, tomorrow will be just another day, but it will also be another day in Thailand. Another day to teach and to learn. To know myself better. To know my students better. To know Bang Kaeo better. Tomorrow, whether I know it or not, will be monumental. At the very least, it will be full of monumental moments… there’s no escaping them. Tomorrow, I will lose myself in the little, joyful moments, and I will stand strong and still during the moments requiring excessive patience. I will soak everything in. Tomorrow, I will turn my head to the blistering sun and continue to grow.

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