Not pictured: my Thai life beyond the Instagram posts

Well, it appears I’ve done it again and left my blog in the dust. This time I’m not even going to apologize because:

  1. This whole Thai time thing (a laissez-faire concept that believes time and deadlines are more of a suggestion than a set standard to which we should all adhere) has apparently rubbed off on me, so I won’t apologize for embracing Thai culture.
  2. I know you’re not actually worried that I’m MIA because I’ve been plenty active on social media. I will concede that seeing a posed photo of me rejoicing on the beach is not the same as reading about real ~Rachel stories~ with my [insert desired adjective here] narration.

So, let’s cut to the chase. Unfortunately, due to my hiatus, there’s quite a bit that has happened in the land of smiles since my last post that simply cannot be fully addressed. To spare us both the tedium of reliving every last detail, I will stick to the highlights. Let me start by giving you a quick rundown of places I’ve traveled since December:

  • Koh Samui, Thailand
  • Khao Yai National Park, Thailand
  • Bangkok, Thailand (as in I’m there every weekend I’m not traveling and even on some weeknights — I’m wild I know!!)
  • Vientiane, Laos (though this doesn’t really count because it was for a visa run and literally all I did during this unavoidable trip was wait in lines, complete paperwork, and sleep)
  • Ayutthaya, Thailand
  • Kanchanaburi, Thailand
  • Koh Samet, Thailand

img_0285As mentioned, there’s no way I can go into full detail in Rachel fashion about each of these places without writing a novel. Just know that I had an absolute jol with amazing people on all of these mini vacations. If you’re planning on coming to Thailand and are curious about any of these places or you just want to hear my stories from any of these lil trips, feel free to reach out to me personally via Facebook or email (rachel.pruim@gmail.com). Always happy to be your sage travel guru. That being said, obviously some details about the last couple of months must be discussed. Because I’ve spammed my social media with glamorous photos in picturesque places, the theme of this post will be sharing with you the real life, behind the scenes, day-to-day events that aren’t captured in the insta posts. Below is a list of noteworthy (everyday, mundane..but not so mundane because it’s me and I’m dramatic) things that have happened since you last read:

I moved out of my apartment and into a co-worker’s house. Shortly after my last post, I celebrated Christmas at a co-worker’s house and had a very enjoyable if not unique holiday season. This co-worker drove us each home early Monday morning to get ready for school. When she dropped me off at my apartment, everyone in the car seemed to be horrified. To paraphrase, it went something like: “Who the hell showed you this place?? This is so isolated, I would have been depressed within a week of living here. We need to move you somewhere that’s not in the middle of nowhere.”

To be fair, the apartment itself was nice, but admittedly the location was not ideal. This candid reaction snapped me to reality. If you remember my post from when I first arrived in Rangist, I was struggling a bit through a rough patch, but I had pretty much blamed it all on the culture shock. My coworker’s bluntness made me realize a big part of this rough patch was stemming from the fact that I was modern day Rapunzel (luscious hair and all, obvi) trapped in her tower out in the sticks with little accessibility to pretty much anything. Two days later, I moved out of the isolated apartment and into an empty room in another co-worker’s house. Remember that guardian angel Brett from a couple posts ago? Well he came in clutch again by literally putting a roof over my head. I’m happy to report that this upgrade in location has significantly increased my quality of life and happiness these last couple of months. I mean come on, I’m a mere 30 second walk from a 7-11 now, how could I not be happy?!

I traveled on a third-class, 12 hour sleeper train. WOOOOOOFFFF!!! That dramatic “woof” was fully warranted, I assure you. There were a lot of red flags thrown at us before we embarked on that train ride from hell, but I guess we chose to ignore them. Transportation in Thailand is always a mission, but this experience definitely takes the cake for the most stressful and uncomfortable travel experience I’ve had in Thailand — and ever. To begin, Koh Samui in itself is quite a struggle to get to unless you pay an arm and a leg to fly directly to the island. To get there, we took an overnight bus to Surat Thani, but because we waited until last minute to buy a return ticket, there were very few options left. When we told the man at the ticket booth our return date, he responded “All that’s left is third-class train” in a tone that suggested there may as well be no way of getting back that day. Red flag number one. We ignored the concern plastered across his face and bought our tickets for 150 baht each. Red flag number two: the fact that we only had to pay $4 to travel 400 miles.

After a relaxing New Year’s trip in paradise that involved laying out on the beach and daily oceanside massages (truly, the amount of massages I’ve gotten in my mere 4 months here is shocking), it was time to return to the working world. The following description of our return trip will in no way do the actual ordeal we lived through justice, but I’ll try my best to transport you (to a less desirable place) through my narrative skills. Our departure day arrived, and it was a rainy and gloomy day, likely a foreshadow of our looming journey. We found a songtaew to drive us an hour from our hotel to the pier where the ferry departs. When we arrived at the Koh Samui pier, we learned we had to go to the bus station first to pick up our ferry ticket (because that makes sense?), so we proceeded to take a motorbike taxi to the bus station to retrieve our tickets and immediately boarded a bus that took us right back to the pier. Needless to say, efficiency took a huge blow on this journey. We boarded the crowded ferry where we stood as sardines for 2 hours until we arrived at the Surat Thani pier. We boarded another bus at this pier that took us on a 2 hour ride to the Surat Thani railway station. We waited at the po dunk station while our train kept being delayed. 2 hours later, at 9 pm, we boarded the infamous third class train.

As soon as we stepped foot on that train, the red flags suddenly clicked in our heads. The car can best be described by comparing it to a bleak hospital waiting room flooded with fluorescent lights and patients anxiously awaiting their results with the expectation that the results will be grim. So clearly, a pretty luxurious place. My friend Ciara and I also encountered another new red flag by noticing we were the only farangs in the entire car. Suddenly, it was as if a big flashing red sign appeared saying: “WARNING: this transportation is not suitable for foreigners”.  Because I feel as if my narrative skills have not done the description of the train justice, my pictures will have to suffice. I’m not trying to relive the experience, so let’s fast forward to 12 hours later when the sleepless ride on the “sleeper” train finally ended. We arrived back in Bangkok, where I embarked on my usual journey from the city to my little village (which includes a metro ride, a van ride, another van ride, and a motorbike taxi ride). Over 24 hours of travel later, I had never been so happy to be reunited with my room in Rangsit.

I sang a song in Thai in front of my entire school. Back in January my school had this huge “annual show”, which was basically a big fair. There were mini rides, booths where you could get food and knick knack paddy wacks, and singing and dancing performances all day long. For about a month leading up to the big event, all of the English teachers had been meeting 30 minutes a day to rehearse the Thai New Year song (despite the fact that we wouldn’t be performing the song until a month after the New Year). I don’t really ask questions here though, I just do what I’m told and it seems to work for me. The big day finally arrived, and the foreign teachers were the grand finale. All day I watched adorable students dance on stage in cute little outfits until it was my turn! I was front and center with a microphone dangling much too close to my face for comfort, but the experience ended up being relatively painless and actually quite fun! And now I can sing (some of) the Thai New Year song on command if you ever have a desire to hear that, because why wouldn’t you.

I experienced my first visa run. I applaud the foreigners who have lived in Thailand long term and embark on these “visa runs” every three months. Let’s just say I was spoiled with my visa situation in Spain. I didn’t even have to think twice about living or traveling in Europe. I got my visa before I left the states, and that was the last I ever thought about it. I traveled to about 12 countries with no difficulty and just assumed this would be the norm anywhere I went. No. I got to Thailand on a visa that would last me 3 months, so once my 3 months were up, I needed to take two and a half days off work and leave the country to extend my visa 60 more days. This visa run to Laos involved a 9-hour overnight van, about 4 different lines that lasted 30 minutes each, and just overall pandemonium. Passports were floating about left and right through strangers’ hands and sleepless foreigners were shuffling like sardines through customs and immigration and departures. When I finally got to my hotel, I took a long nap, woke up for dinner and a movie, and the next day we were headed back to Bangkok. A moment of respect for the people that do this on a regular basis — you are all the true unsung heroes. I will say though, it was kind of humbling getting some perspective on immigration/tourist/work permit etc. restrictions after having been fortunate enough to not worry about that kind of thing for most of my life.

I got food poisoning. I feel like I brought this on myself, too. Unfortunately, Thailand is a country where it is not uncommon to experience at least one bout of food poisoning during your time here. So, after I had made it nearly four months escaping a stomach bug, and having less than a month left, I smugly thought to myself “wow, I made it this whole time without falling victim to the horrors of salmonella or e. coli or who even knows.” One week later, I was bed ridden with food poisoning. So, I don’t fully understand when people can pinpoint exactly what gave them food poisoning unless they ate with a big group that all got sick. But when there’s only one victim and the person can say, “Oh it was that rogue mushroom in that slice of pizza I ate at 7:37 pm on Friday night”, I must say I commend their true detective work there. For me, it could have been any of my meals within the span of about two days, but my theory is that it was bad chicken.

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It started with a splitting headache on Sunday afternoon and progressed to stomach cramps. Next, it was all the pleasantries you can imagine go along with stomach cramps, including but not limited to dehydration. I took Monday and Tuesday off work, and after feeling slightly better on Wednesday, I decided to brave my classes. My oh my that was a rough day of work. I went to the doctor that night, got an unspecified injection in my gluteus maximus and prescriptions for five different kinds of medicines and hoped that this would put me on the mend. No. The next day was the worst, so I took Thursday off work. Feeling slightly stronger after some sleep, I forced myself to go in again Friday, and by Saturday I was finally somewhat back to normal. This happened about a week ago and, over a week later, I think I’m finally about 97% back to normal. Moral of the story: don’t be smug because karma will be sure to get you.

This brings my list of “noteworthy behind the scenes occurrences”to a close even though you’ve gotta know I only scratched the surface. Let’s just say random intense police searches, weirdly intimate massages, and moments of seasickness on ferries did not make the cut. This was not meant to be a list of negative things at all, but rather a real time depiction of every day life behind the glamour shots I’ve been boasting over Facebook. I have had such an amazing time in Thailand traveling to such unique and beautiful places. It has also been so deeply rewarding forming bonds with both my wonderful students, my helpful Thai teachers, and strangers I’ve met through my travels. I have learned so so so much during my time here, and I hope to write another more introspective post about my overall experience in Thailand once I return to America (which will be March 19. Time flies people, mark your calendars!!)  For now, let me just count my lucky stars that the food poisoning came and went before my brother arrives tomorrow morning (!!) to gallivant around the country with me during my last two weeks in the land of smiles. Thanks for being patient during my hiatus!

Sincerely,

Rachel on Thai time

Pai, Phi Phi, Pathum Thani – Oh my!

Yikes, I definitely know I’m slacking on my blog game, but in my defense, I have a few good (read: sub-par) reasons for why it took me so long to write another post:

  • I work over 40 hours a week teaching English to second-grade Thai students
  • When I’m not working, I’m busy exploring Thailand or trying my darndest to foster relationships with new friends..or I’m sleeping (please refer to bullet point number one and you can guess that the exhaustion is real).
  • I actually did write another blog post since you last heard from me, but for Greenheart Travel instead of for my own personal blog.
  • My computer died (like not just the battery..the thing actually pooped out), so it is currently sitting in an Apple store in Bangkok waiting for its new pretty little parts to arrive. Obvi I’ll touch more on this story later, but needless to say, I’m typing this all out on my trusty lil iPhone 7 (which as you can imagine is not ideal). Also, maybe I shouldn’t say trusty so as not to jinx this device and lead it to the same fate as my poor MacBook. Frankly, those of you who know about my sordid past with laptops should not be surprised in the slightest about this news.
  • I’m lazy..sry.

So as not to waste any [more] time, let’s dive right in, shall we? Since you last read about me, I was grappling to ease my way into a comfortable and happy lifestyle in a new and different place. Tangent: I could’ve said something like “since you last read about my adventures” or “since you last read about my experience” but to read about ME makes it sound like I’m a celebrity and I’m digging that. You missed my tangents, didn’t you? Anyhow, what’s been the haps since then? Well, as I mentioned in my last post, my dearest Melissa was coming to visit me. Let me tell you, we had an absolute ball exploring Thailand together. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, having a 7:30 am – 4 pm job M-F did not make seeing her during the week quite feasible. Fortunately, we made up for this lost time during the two long weekends we spent  together. Even more fortunately, I had no school on the two Mondays she was here due to public holidays, so we had three-day weekends instead of two-day weekends, SCORE! And believe you me, we were determined to make the most of these weekends in Pai (the mountains) and in Koh Phi Phi (the islands). So, without further ado, let’s begin:

 

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Meemer and me enjoying the mountains in Pai

Pai: So I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty details of what it took to plan this three-day trip up north (partially because travel planning woes are not the juicy and exciting tales you want to hear, but mainly because I’m really hoping to avoid reliving the stress and tears that went into the ordeal of booking my transportation — I think I physically shuddered just now even thinking about it.) Anyhow, once everything was planned, I boarded my overnight bus in Bangkok at 8:30 pm on Friday night, which was due to arrive in Chiang Mai at 7:20 am on Saturday morning at the Arcade Bus Station where I would wait, twiddling my thumbs, until Melissa arrived at the station so we could board a van that departed at 8:30 am to Pai and was due to arrive at 11:30 am. WOW- thanks for following that trek of an explanation..kinda feels like you have secondhand exhaustion just by reading about the journey, doesn’t it? Even though I said I would only touch on the travel part itself, I can’t endure 15 hours of travel without at least elaborating just a little:

  • Perks of an overnight bus:
    • It’s super cheap. I traveled about 430 miles for $15..not too shabby.
    • Seriously, it’s SUPER cheap. I slept on the bus, so I didn’t have to worry about paying for accommodation at a hostel or anything that night.
  • Downfalls of an overnight bus:
    • It’s smelly. It is not a pleasant feeling you get when the guy who will be sitting next to you for the next 11 hours plops in his seat accompanied by a less than ideal odor.
    • It is not a five-star resort with a Tempur-Pedic mattress. Obviously, it’s not the most comfortable arrangement. For starters, they blast the air con. But shout out to my Columbia rain jacket (which actually did double duty as the hood helped shield me from the fowl aroma being emitted from the man next to me.) And, as you can imagine, the seats were no memory foam mattress, let alone even a La-Z-boy.
  • Perks of a van to Pai:
    • It was relatively short. The drive only took three hours compared to the 11-hour ride I had just experienced.
  • Downfalls of a van to Pai:
    • The road winds quite a bit. The route had a total of about 762 turns, which doesn’t actually bother me because I don’t get carsick. However, it does begin to concern me when the hungover girl who will be sitting next to me says “Oh god, I’m definitely going to puke during this ride” as she climbs into the van. You’ll (hopefully) be relieved to learn she did not end up projectile vomiting on me.
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Laughing at the fact that they let me rent a motorbike

But not to fret, I had finally made it to Pai, relatively unscathed, with Melissa in tow! So let’s actually talk about that beautiful, mountainous, splendid gem also known to some as “Pai”. As soon as we arrived, we dropped our bags at our hostel, which was a hammock-laced hippie town (trust, this is not a complaint in the slightest — quite the contrary, actually..more on that later). Right from our hostel, we walked down the main street to get to one of the many motorbike rental shops. Through our research (okay..let’s be real..through Melissa’s research), we learned that the best way to explore Pai is by mounting a motorbike to become our own tour guides. So, we were ready to start our engines! Let me tell you a thing or two about driving a scooter around Pai:

  1. It is amazing.
  2. It. Is. AMAZIIIING.

Being able to see the most breathtaking views of majestic mountains as the wind blew through my hair on a secluded back road with the power of an engine at the tips of my fingers was exhilarating. Needless to say, if at some point your life ever brings you to Pai, do yourself a favor and rent a motorbike for a mere 150 baht ($4) a day. Also, let’s all take a second to marvel at the fact that I came out of that weekend without a scratch. (I did come back with quite a few mosquito bites, but the lack of injury after being on a motorbike all weekend is commendable, I must say). On the first night in Pai, Melissa and I found our way to Pai Canyon, a beautiful mass of rocks that doubled as perches on which we sat in awe watching the cotton candy sunset. Following the surreal sunset, we giddily drove our motorbikes back to town where a night market was taking place on the main road. One of the draws of Pai was how wonderfully small the town was. It was very easy to navigate, and we saw many familiar faces throughout the weekend, which gave the little backpacker location a small-town charm type of vibe.

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Unfortunately, this photo doesn’t do it justice.

After enjoying some food from the walking street we headed back to the hostel where we would start our night with some drinks at the hostel’s attached bar. We shared a few drinks and anecdotes with fellow travelers and the hostel workers (yes, you read that correctly, they were drinking on the job..we learned that they literally don’t even have a shift schedule, they just come in when they feel like it and get paid to drink with cool backpackers..they’ve got this job thing figured out) and we headed out to a bar called Edible Jazz. Edible Jazz was the hangout spot of the hippies and Melissa and I completely embraced it. We found the hostel worker who had checked us in earlier that day, befriended his group, and were subsequently inducted into their cool little cult. The token of admission was the application of gold glitter on our eyelids, which Meemer astutely pointed out “elevated us to a new social status”. Soon after the glitter induction, to our surprise, our new friends took the stage as the stars of a fire show wherein they not only tossed around sticks of fire, but also ate said fire. Our new friends were pretty rad, and we instantly felt more popular and nifty by association.

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We found glittery hippie Jeff Miceli!!

The next day was quite similar in the sense that we drove around taking in the scenery from our scooters. Highlights include having Thais stop us to take our picture and having Thai policeman stop us in the middle of the road for a bag check and frisk. Yes, you read both of those correctly. As for the picture, we assumed they were asking for us to take their picture, but we soon learned that two of them wanted to be in a picture WITH us because we’re basically celebrities, apparently. As for the policemen, we smiled and nodded along politely until the in-depth search ended. That night, we hit up our favorite jazz bar again, but this time hung out in the hammocks and swung back and forth enjoying each other’s company with goofy grins plastered on our faces as we marveled at how happy we were in that moment. Unfortunately, I began my journey back to Pathum Thani (my district of Bangkok) early the next morning where I would have to be apart from Melissa for a whole week before we could be reunited again that Friday on the island of Koh Phi Phi. To sum up, Pai was a fantasy land. I loved it, Melissa loved it, the free-spirited hippies love it. The takeaway for me from the weekend was recognizing the difference between tourists and backpackers/travelers. Tourists wear fanny packs and carry maps and stay at five-star resorts and are not as open to letting their destination take them where it may. Backpackers stay at hostels and meet new people and change plans on a whim based on advice from other travelers or new friends they’ve  made. They are laid back and down-to-earth and eager to discover new cultures so they can immerse themselves in said cultures. This is not to say backpackers can’t stay at fancy resorts or that tourists always carry maps, but I’m just trying to create some imagery for an overarching concept, okay?? I’ve noticed both types of people through my travels, and it was so cool getting to meet so many like-minded travelers during my time in the backpacker town of Pai.

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What an absolute life we are living

Koh Phi Phi: The following Friday, I hopped in a taxi right after school to get to the airport in time for my 6:30 pm flight to Krabi where I would stay the night and then take a ferry the next morning to Koh Phi Phi island. It’s me though, so naturally things didn’t go as smoothly as one would assume. I made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare and had nothing to do but relax until my 5:40 boarding time. 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes passed after the posted boarding time and yet nobody had been boarded. With a mere 10 minutes before the flight was originally set to take off and with nobody on the plane, we all began to wonder what in the sam heck was going on. I noticed a fellow farang talking to an airline worker and nonchalantly sauntered up to her after the conversation had ended to inquire about the information she had gleaned. She was told that apparently the new King was also vacationing in Krabi for the holiday weekend so all flights to Krabi were delayed in order for him to fly in. As the time of departure kept being pushed back from 7:30 to 8:30 to 9, I befriended my fellow farang, a native of California who is also an English teacher in Bangkok. We threw back some Chang beers and chatted about the stresses and the perks of being teachers in Thailand as we waited to board the delayed-delayed plane. This new friendship was a great reminder that sometimes when something goes wrong, there is often positive fallout in other ways. Finally, our flight took off at 9:30 and we landed at Krabi airport an hour and a half later where my new friend Tina and I boarded a 30-minute bus that took us to Ao Nang where our hostels were.

Unfortunately, with the delay in my flight, I did not arrive at my hostel until after midnight, and naturally check-in had ended for the night. I arrived at the building to come face-to-face with a locked gate decorated with a small piece of paper telling guests to call their other property if we had arrived after 11 pm. Melissa was on the hostel bar crawl with new friends having fun, so obviously I was not tryna disturb her, and I was determined to figure out how to get into my hostel on my own. I called the number, and of course, the line was busy. After multiple calls and 20 minutes, I finally got through to their other property and he described over the phone how to get in and which room and bed I was in. This check-in process was less than ideal after a long day of teaching and travel, but I had a bed for the night, so I was content. This weekend was extra special because not only was Melissa there, but four other friends from my TEFL program had joined for the weekend. The next morning, we all headed to catch our ferry at 8:30 am and we were on our way to Koh Phi Phi!!

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A super successful jumping photo. Let’s admire the height I got and appreciate that it looks like I’m missing half a leg.

Upon our arrival at Koh Phi Phi, we had a quick turn around time to drop our bags at our hostel and head to the meeting point for our reservation to Bob’s Booze Cruise, the most awesome thing we did that weekend. The cruise lasted from 1-7 and included two sessions of snorkeling in clear blue water, a visit to the monkey cave to feed the little guys bananas, a stop at Maya Bay (home of the infamous scenery featured in the movie The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio — which I’ll be honest..I’ve never actually seen), and swimming and paddle boarding in a private, isolated lagoon. Oh, and unlimited alcohol, LOL. It was all-inclusive, and we met a lot of really cool people and did a lot of really cool things, so this is another highly recommended activity if your life should ever take you to Phi Phi. That evening we started the night off at the attached bar at our hostel, which is one of the most famous bars on the island as it’s right on the beach. The bar had another fire show (because apparently throwing fire is a super popular job in the entertainment/tourist industry here in Thailand?). I even got to go up on stage and hold the fire stick myself..I know, I’m an adrenaline junkie (although not really because they wouldn’t actually let us twirl it or play with it or anything, what a shame).

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Shout out to Koh Phi Phi Viewpoint for this stunning photo

The next couple days weren’t quite as eventful as snorkeling and monkey-feeding, but still blissful nonetheless. On Sunday, we hiked (when I say hiked, I mean HIKED) up a steeeeep hill to view the island from the Koh Phi Phi Viewpoint, and it was absolutely stunning. We didn’t think it was possible for the island to get more beautiful, but the bird’s-eye view proved us wrong. After this sweat-inducing trek, we essentially spent the rest of the weekend laying out on the beach, and you would hear no complaints from us. Sunday night we traded holding fire for participating in an on-stage group jump rope and limbo session. As you’ve probably gathered, I’m quite keen on getting on stage to do random things like hold fire and jump rope. Unfortunately, come Monday, we had to snap back to reality (at least the teachers..Melissa still had another day in paradise) and return to Bangkok. But at least we had a nice subtle bronze glow to bring with us as a souvenir from the weekend. However, even more unfortunately, that was the last I saw of Melissa as she boarded a plane back to the states a couple days later. But let me just take a moment to say how immensely grateful I am that she came to Thailand to play. It made me so happy to have a little piece of home there with me, especially in the form of a Melissa Bond!!

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Sharelle and I having a jol playing in Bangkok on a Monday night

Pathum Thani: So, this past week back in my little province of Pathum Thani, I’ve become more and more settled into my job and my life on a daily basis. I’m becoming more familiar with each of my studens (my Thai teachers are impressed with how many names I’ve remembered) and I’m becoming closer with my coworkers. So brings us to my upsetting event of the week. As mentioned (much) earlier in this post, my laptop is sick. For those of you who have also experienced laptop troubles, you know how disheartening it is to turn your computer on and see a black screen. As bummed as I was that I had to make the trek to the Apple store in Bangkok on a Monday night to get my computer fixed (and subsequently be computer-less for two weeks), it was actually such a blessing in disguise. I made the journey to the city with my awesome co-worker, Sharelle, and we had an absolute jol* (*keep reading if you want some context for that slang). We wandered around the beautiful Christmas display of golden lights, nutcrackers, ornaments, and reindeer featured in front of the Central Festival mall. Next, we treated ourselves to some German beer and spaetzle and then a drink at a nifty little bar..on a Monday night (what rebels). It was such a wonderful way to get in the holiday spirit and help the week roll by slightly faster. As for Christmas this weekend, I’ll be staying at a generous co-worker’s house who offered to host Christmas. She invited myself and some other co-workers to spend the weekend cooking and swimming and eating and being jolly! So try not to be too sad for me that I’m missing my family  and friends this holiday season because I get to spend it with new friends, which is quite exciting. Also, I received a special holiday care package from Kim and Katie (shout out to those beautiful souls), so I’m definitely feeling the love this holiday season.

So, that’s the full (not totally in-depth) update of my life. And I know this post is getting lengthy (read: got lengthy quite a while ago), but if I don’t tell you all these highly **important** things now, when will I ever?! To wrap up this post, what follows is a quick crash-course in Thai culture observations I’ve made and South African lingo I’ve learned (which is almost just as relevant considering most of my cool co-workers/friends here are South African.

Just Thai things:

  • You must stop, stand, and stay silent whenever you hear the National Anthem come on. It’s actually kinda awesome seeing everything go from chaos to calm in a matter of seconds.
  • Thai second-graders are an indescribable mix of shy and rowdy and affectionate all at the same time, and I’m still trying to crack the code for it. For example, in class they will shout and hoot and holler and make all sorts of ruckus, especially a select few students in particular (which I realize is probably normal for kids in most cultures). But then they will act like the sweetest little angels when they see me outside of class as they run up to talk to me, hug me, and hold my hand. And THEN, when the time comes for one-on-one speaking assessments, they turn into the shyest beings imaginable. Like, it is literally as if I am Medusa and if they dare look at me or even speak to me they will instantly turn into stone. I will ask a question I know they know the answer to and they will respond in a decibel on the same level as a dog whistle, which, unfortunately, my lowly human ears cannot hear.
  • Actually, this dog whistle theory explains a lot though considering the issues with dogs I’ve been having here in Thailand. We’re talking absolutely ungodly howls at 3 am, jolting me (a fairly heavy sleeper) out of my beauty rest. I wish I could imitate this whimper noise for you, but you’ll have to settle for a written description because unfortunately I’m not magic and I cannot make my written words audible. Just know that it’s the noise you would imagine a hybrid of a newborn baby and a hyena would make after being found in the woods by Scar from The Lion King

South African lingo:

  • (Proper) jol: a really fun time
  • Braai: barbecue
  • Shame: that’s so cute/thoughtful/sweet
  • Costume: bathing suit
  • (Quite) nice: delicious, tasty, etc.

Okay, it has been quite a pleasure catching up, but it’s time for me to stop while I’m ahead (if I’m actually still ahead). Hopefully, I’ll be more consistent with my blogging from now on so my posts won’t have to be so long. Next week I leave for a week-long New Year’s trip to Koh Samui (another island..I can’t get enough), so wish me good times and a Happy New Year and I’ll wish you a Happy Holidays as well!

Yours truly,

Hippie Medusa

My first week in Rangsit- culture shock with a side of teaching

I’m about to preface this post with a quote I once used in my Spain blog, but wow it is more relevant now than it has ever been:

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” -Anne Frank

On Wednesday, I moved to my placement city in Rangsit, Thailand, which is a suburb of Bangkok. What has followed my arrival at Don Mueang International Airport until now has been a painful nose-first dive into the absolute thick of it. To put that sentence into words a normal person would use: I am not immune to culture shock. Let me repeat that for those in the back: I am not immune to culture shock. I consider myself a ~decently~ traveled person, I had no problems with my transition into living in Spain for 5 months, and my first month in Thailand was basically bliss, so I was completely ready and totally excited to move on to my own city to teach my own classes. These past few days have taught me that I need to wake up and smell the elephant poop (that’s actually relevant, I’ll get to the literal elephant doo doo later). My time in Thailand will be an exhilarating experience to say the least, but it will certainly be a rollercoaster ride of emotions (so sorry to use such a cliché analogy, but this past week has absolutely drained me and figurative language is hard on a tired mind). My adventure here will have its ups and it will have its downs, but this post serves as a way to remind myself that I’m ready to conquer the challenges so I can embrace the amazing moments that make all the hardships I may face completely worth it. So, let’s take a look at my past week to bear witness to all the amazing ups and all the not-as-amazing downs I’ve experienced in such a short timespan.

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Teaching the youths a thing or two about the English language

Last Thursday, I reached the point in my TESOL course wherein we actually got to teach Thai students at an English camp, go figure!! Let me tell you, I was so hype to finally be teaching basic English to a group of people who were not my colleagues and who were also at least a few years younger than me. This hype came to fruition when I finally stood in front of a class of 13 and 14 year-olds as Teacher Rachel and delivered my own little lesson plan about daily routines. It was a hit. All of the students were so into the activities I created, and they all understood the vocabulary and sentence structure so well. Throughout the next two days, my students literally lined up to take pictures with me, gave me constant hugs, began following me on social media, and even became victim to violent sobs as my fellow teachers and I said our goodbyes. “WOW,” I thought, this whole teaching thing will be amazing. If I can make a hoard of 35 students cry after two short days, I can only imagine the impact I’m capable of making over the next few months. Were the tears a result of teenage angst or am I just really that awesome? Let’s be real, it was probably more so the angst thing, but hey I’d like to think I did actually form a connection with some of these students — and what an awesome feeling that was. I must remind myself of this sentiment as I grapple through these first couple weeks with a total of 135 2nd grade students in my actual placement.

The most exciting part of this post is telling you about my day last Saturday. I had the opportunity to visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, and I cannot even describe what an amazing experience it was, but I’ll try anyway. At the sanctuary, a passionate man named Paul informed us about the harsh reality of elephant cruelty and how the sanctuary tries to combat it. He gave us bananas to feed the majestic beauties (which resulted in a pretty prompt elephant poo for about half of them — see, I told you that phrase was relevant). Next the mahouts (elephant trainers) let us get muddy with the gentle giants. The trainers also opted to join in the fun with a mission to get their guests as muddy as possible. It was a blast. Seeing the warmth and the love in the eyes of the elephants ranging from babies to adults was absolutely heartwarming. If you come to Thailand, do yourself a favor and visit a sanctuary. You won’t regret getting to play with the amazing creatures.

On Monday, I took my TESOL exam, graduated that afternoon, and packed that evening. I was all set to embark the next day on my own separate journey to begin my teaching experience in Rangsit. And so now we begin to approach the “not-as-amazing downs” section of the post. So most of you who know me personally know that I’m a pleasant (or I guess not-so-pleasant depending on whether you actually like me or not) mix of extrovert and introvert. I love meeting new people, I love spending time with friends, and I love to do things like sing Britney Spears at karaoke bars. But, I also like curling up with a book on my own, going for long runs on my own, and laying in my bed watching Netflix on my own. So due to my nature of occasionally enjoying my alone time (which I like to refer to as being independent), I thought I would be totally ready to have some time to myself after spending three weeks surrounded by 30 (awesome) people 24/7. I was wrong. I’ve never actually lived by myself and I’ve never been in a foreign city completely alone, so these first few days have been a little lonely. But, silver lining to the whole ~alone~ thing: it will force me to do some introspection and it will push me toward heightened self-acceptance and self-love, which will actually be really good for me. However, I know I will soon let my social butterfly tendencies shine, and I will find new friends and further develop the little seeds I planted with people this past week.

Totally and completely sorry to bum you out, but in the interest of telling you about my first week at my new placement, I’m about to report on some more rough patches. As I said, I arrived at the airport on Tuesday, where I caught a taxi with all of my luggage directly to the school. I met the people I had interviewed with proudly donning my airplane clothes and sheen of sweat. From there, somebody from the HR department carted me around on her motor bike to look at apartments for me to live in for the next few months. I don’t know how to put this delicately, but the first place she showed me was a glorified prison cell. I politely asked if we could maybe look at other places to compare before I said yes. It was clear that she hadn’t really prepared for me, because the next two places we went to were already full. Finally, she reluctantly took me to a place that she said another teacher lives at, but she was concerned because it wasn’t very close to the school and she didn’t know how I would get there….when we got to the place, Google Maps told me it is literally a mere 15 minute walk. It was significantly nicer than the first place I was shown, so I was sold. Though it came with furniture, it did not come with a pillow or linens or a towel or soap or any of that jazz, so I asked the woman who had been carting me around where I could get those necessities. She drove me back to the main road and told me to “catch the songtaew to Big C”. I didn’t know where Big C was and there were no songtaews in sight, so I walked 20 minutes to the nearest Tesco. All they had was a pillow, but at least it was something, right? As I started walking back toward the general direction where I was dropped off, I realized I forgot to save the location of the apartment. My common sense has just been on top of its game lately, clearly. After a lot of walking and turning down a wrong alley that led to nearly being attacked by a pack of rabid dogs that thought my pillow was a play toy, I finally [somehow] made my way back to my apartment.

Let’s press on with the week, shall we? On Friday, I saw a student in my class crying because he had broken his ruler. I was sad for him, but honestly, I was also a bit jealous. The day before, there was one point during one of my classes that I had to muster all my strength to hold back tears because I guess I’m an adult and I guess it would be frowned upon to start crying as the teacher mid-lesson. Why did I need to hold back tears? Obviously, there are different cultural norms here considering I’m in a different country (hence the culture shock). And during this particular class I witnessed the not-so-pretty underbelly of those norms. Early on in the class, I saw my Thai assistant slap a student on the wrist with a ruler because he wrote a sentence incorrectly. Obviously, this made me pretty uncomfortable, but this discomfort grew when the teacher I had been shadowing made a girl stand up and asked the class if they thought the girl was beautiful to which they responded with a resounding “no”. I think my jaw dropped a little as the teacher responded to this really sad moment by laughing. I am not about that. The good news is that once I’m no longer shadowing and I have the class to myself, I obviously will not be demeaning anyone in front of the entire class.

To continue on with this semi-positive outlook, I will also say that there have certainly been diamonds in the rough during this transition period. Those diamonds’ names are Sabai, Jinky, and Brett. They have all played their own role as my little guardian angels at some point this past week. Let me explain:

  • Sabai: In Thailand, most people are given nicknames because their full names are extremely long. Sabai is the nickname of one of my most adorable and intelligent students. I believe I mentioned this in a previous post, but Sabai means happy, comfortable, or relaxed. How wonderfully poetic that the student reminding me why this is all worth it and that I must push myself to be happy and relaxed is literally named “Happy”.
  • Jinky: Jinky is a teacher from the Philippines at my school who also lives in my apartment building. Side note: apparently both Jinky and my landlord are super concerned that I’ve been walking the 15 minutes to and from school. At first I thought they were joking considering my walk to school in Spain was 40 minutes. I assured them that I do not need to pay for a motorbike taxi to pick me up and drop me off every day, and they seem to have dropped it – for now. Anyway, this past Friday after school, Jinky and I hopped on her motorbike and she showed me around Rangsit, which helped me realize there is a lot more to this town than just the little bubble to which I had confined myself. She took me to an awesome market to get a blanket and a coffee pot and anything else I needed, and then she kept buying me all this food. Needless to say, Jinky has been a god send.
  • Brett: Next up is Brett, a South African teacher at my school who I had briefly met during the week, but hadn’t really had a conversation with until this Saturday. I was assigned to the same station as him at 7:30 am when I had to report for work for some extra-curricular activity (that I only found out I needed to be at 20 minutes before I left work on Friday). It came up that we were both going into Bangkok after we got off and he offered to take me under his wing so he could show me the best way of going about transport from Rangsit to BKK. He was so beyond helpful. Because of him, we made it to Bangkok without a hitch, and then come Sunday night, I managed (with slightly more of a hitch) to make it back to my apartment on my own despite having to tackle five separate modes of transportation (subway, bus, van, motorbike taxi, walking). Tangent: I really loved Bangkok, but I barely scratched the surface in the day and a half that I was there, so I’ll definitely have to go back to do some more exploring!

This section is entitled “Random thoughts of the week“:

  1. Another benefit of living in Thailand: by the end of this experience, my immune system will be superhuman. Unfortunately, I’m still in the annoying stage during which I’ve been sick for weeks. My inability to shake this nasty cough and stuffy nose may be due in part to the fact that my students love grabbing my hands in the hallway and hugging me and just touching me in general. And though I’ve spotted a sign in a Thai school claiming “Cleanliness is next to godliness”, I think we all know that 8 year-old kids barely know the meaning of the word “germs”. One student in particular always grabs my arm and squeezes it from my wrist to my shoulder, so I’ve got the germs all over me, score! This may be his way of showing his affection, and I guess aside from the fact that I don’t know the last time he washed his hands and that it’s a little strange, it’s also pretty endearing.
  2. This week, I’ve been teaching time, among other things. My school adheres to textbooks published by Oxford, so as you can guess, they use very British English, even though American teachers get paid more because the school thinks we speak the most “clear English”. As a result of this British thing, I’ve been forced to use the terms “quarter past”, “half past”, and “quarter to”. I’ve never been a fan of this method of telling time, but I’ll bow my head and oblige anyway.
  3. These Thai nicknames I mentioned earlier are unreal. We’re talking names like “Pancake”, “Friend”, “Vegas”, and “Guns”. Mom, dad, why’d you slack so hard when you named me?

So, that brings this post to a close. I hope that ending on an observation about unusual Thai nicknames helped to make this post slightly more light-hearted. But, I do hope you appreciated my candor, and I hope that it has helped anyone in a similar situation or who may soon be in a similar situation. The truth is, this is not a vacation — this is a 7:30-4 teaching job in a new country. It will be rewarding, but it will not always be a breeze. I have done some amazing things, and I will continue to do more amazing things during my time here, but that’s not to say there won’t be challenges along the way. Thanks for bearing with me; as a reward, I have a piece of exciting news! Melissa will be arriving in Thailand tomorrow to visit me, so the dynamic duo will be back in action in THAILAND-yeeee!

 

Yours truly,

Teacher Rachel