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

Meals, motorbikes, and mecca

Another week, another whirlwind of events. I only just started my second week of TESOL training on Monday, and guess what? Ya girl’s already got a teaching placement in Rangsit,  which is just outside of Bangkok. And I’m set to start next Monday..eek! So, let’s elaborate on that whole “whirlwind of events” thing. I’ll start with the fact that learning how to teach an entire class (using lesson plans, and competency, and panache) is a whole new ballpark for me. We all know I’m a nerd at heart, so I was ready to tackle the challenge. But, let me tell you, my first attempt at creating and executing a lesson plan did not go exactly as the nerd in me would have liked. Let’s cut to the chase: I flopped like a fish out of water when I got up in front of my peers and attempted to teach them about hospitals. So I didn’t actually flop, and it probably wasn’t as bad as it felt, but needless to say, there was room for improvement. Luckily, I got to take a stab at another lesson plan and presentation later in the week. This time I felt more like a fierce lion, queen of her jungle (classroom). So maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I definitely felt more confident, which is good considering I have to stand in front of a class of students — who are relying on my ability to teach English — in one short week.

 

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Casually watching America’s future unfold on a projector screen in Thailand.

The only other noteworthy thing that happened during our 40 hours of class last week would be the rather significant event that occurred in the good old U S of A. I would be remiss if I did not address (ever so briefly) the election and what it was like to experience said election in another country. First, a major shout out to our teacher for trying to power through his lecture despite the fact that he was facing a class of 30 students whose heads were buried in their phones. We could not be bothered by TESOL theory as we continuously refreshed news sources that were feeding us the election results state by state. Finally he gave up and projected the polls on the big screen as we sat on the edges of our seats until it happened. In the wake of the unfathomable, I have had a handful of Thais bring up the election result in a sympathetic tone after they learn my country of origin. It’s fascinating to be on another continent during such a monumental mark on America and to see firsthand that the impact of this American event has a global ripple effect.

That’s more political talk than I would care to dedicate to my blog, so let’s move right on along. This next section of the blog is a shortlist of things that are much more common in Thailand than in America (if not nonexistent).

  1. Meals: You know how in America, it’s kind of considered bad service (or at the very least annoying) if a table’s meals don’t all come out at the same time? And how if someone’s dish doesn’t come for another two minutes, you’re supposed to leave your plate sitting there untouched for that eternity of two minutes to be considerate even though in your head you’re daydreaming of what that pasta will taste like once it graces your tastebuds? Yeah..none of that is expected here. If two dishes come at the same time, it is an absolute marvel. Here we’ve gotten used to the first person getting their dish and the last person getting theirs 30 minutes later. That first person gingerly and guiltily eats their food knowing it will get cold if they wait. Meanwhile, that last person tries to maintain an even composure as they pray to the food gods that during the next outing they will not be the unlucky duck to eat last.

    Roomie and me, looking fab as per usual, outshining the waterfall

  2. Motorbikes: If you don’t have a motorbike in Thailand, who even are you? Seriously, I can’t help but remember when I was overwhelmed by the amount of motorbikes in Europe. Well, we have entered an entirely new ballpark my friends (I’m realizing that’s the second time in this post I’ve used that ballpark analogy, but whatevs..call it fitting figurative language or muscle memory, but either way, just keep reading plz). There are swarms of scooters here with no regard for road rules. They weave in and out of cars and songtaews and on and off sidewalks with containers of soup or smoothies in hand. But arguably the most novel thing about the motorbikes is WHO you see on them. I’m talking families of three, with kids as young as 4 gripping the body of the bike bringing a whole new meaning to “starting them young”. Glad to know that 4-year-olds have more experience on a Vespa than I do — I’m just reaching new levels of coolness daily, aren’t I?
  3. 7-11s: 7-11 is mecca. It is sacred. It is the light at the end of the tunnel. 7-11 may just be any ordinary, sub-par convenience store back in America, but here it is the lifeblood of Thais. In the mood for a late night grilled cheese, warmed up in store? Look no further than the toastie aisle in your local 7-11 (by local, I literally mean any direction you care to turn..they’re everywhere). Need to add more data to your phone plan? Go ask your friendly 7-11 worker for a top up. Literally need to book a flight to another country? Head on over to the nearest 7-11 to pay for your ticket. I’m telling you, you name it, Thai 7-11 has got it.

Sry, pictures couldn’t do it justice

I digress. I’ve also done a lot of exciting stuff on my free time outside of class like attend a ladyboy cabaret, explore the beautiful National Park that is Doi Inthanon, take a Thai cooking class, and release a lantern into the sky during the widely-celebrated Loy Krathong. All amazing, as you would expect, but I thought it was important to clue you into some cultural differences before I grace you with the good stuff.

More so than anything though, as much as I love and will miss Chiang Mai, I am hype to get to my placement city next week and get settled into my new, semi-permanent life. I can either take a 10-hour bus ride or a 1-hour flight to Bangkok for a negligible difference in price, so obvi I’m opting for the flight. Unfortunately, booking the flight has not been smooth sailing (or should I say flying LOL). I have tried at least 30 times to book my ticket through Air Asia (I promise you, this is not an exaggeration and may in fact actually be an understatement). It has been quite the headache-forming, anxiety-inducing experience, and even more unfortunately, when I went to get a massage to release my tension, my favorite place was closed. Apparently, Air Asia has some promotion going on that’s making their website highly susceptible to crashing right when I make it all the way to the “purchase” stage. But HEY, let’s look at the silver lining — I’ve officially memorized my credit card information!! A shopaholic’s dream come true! So, here’s to hoping that the 50th time’s the charm and I will eventually secure a ticket (preferably without a spike in price) to my new home.

Yours truly,

A fish out of water

Welcome to Thailand: songtaews, waterfalls, wats galore

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind, wanting to start again? Sorry, that was totally unnecessary, but I started this sentence with “do you ever feel like” and couldn’t help myself from there. What I was trying to ask is if you’ve ever had one of those days where it felt like one week has been stuffed into a single day. Well, every day this week has felt like that for me. So, according to that logic, basically I’ve already been in Thailand for about seven weeks even though technically it’s really only been a week. Before I delve into the details of my action-packed week, let me give a little context as to why and how I’m in Thailand in the first place, which I realized I never touched on in my last post.

The nutshell version to explain why I decided to flee to Thailand for 5 months is that I wanted to postpone adult life. However, this week during orientation, we were urged to dig a little deeper. If I’m being honest, since coming back from Spain I had been in a bit of a funk. It was hard for me to get back into a routine where it felt like something was missing. And I guess that “something” would be a sense of adventure and discovery. How could I be content knowing there is so much more beauty and culture and people existing outside of my own little bubble? So here I am in Thailand with a program led by Greenheart Travel. I’ll be teaching Thai students English, but I won’t be finding out what age group or what town I’ll be teaching in for another two weeks or so. Currently, I’m in Chiang Mai completing my orientation and TESOL certification course. This week has been the awesome orientation week during which we got a crash course in Thai culture and language and did a handful of fun excursions. This coming Monday, my TESOL course begins. Unfortunately, I haven’t escaped homework like I thought I had. This is karma for boasting to friends who are still in school about being homework-free. Now that the silly nitty gritty explanation is out of the way, let’s get to the fun part: MY THAI ADVENTURES!!! Because I basically have to fit seven weeks into one post, I’ll try to stick to highlights.

img_1457Sunday: After arriving to my hotel where I will be staying for the next month with my awesome roommate, Tavish (shout out to my program for pairing me with that gem), it was midnight and the exhaustion was REAL. I could not wait to “sleep in” despite the fact that my bed is comparable to a stretcher with a blanket. Thanks to the jet lag, I was up by 8:30 and ready to face the day. Tavish and I ventured to Huay Kaew Waterfall, which we had learned about after creeping on a former Greenheart traveler’s instagram. I broke in my chacos, hiked up a hill, and sat on a rock nestled in the water (and naturally had a slippery little wipeout on said rock. Frankly I wouldn’t blame you for being surprised if I didn’t fall.) Later that night, we found a little restaurant with a few other people from our program and the experience can best be described as edible warfare. Our waitress dumped two huge buckets of spicy seafood onto a paper-lined table as we slipped on some plastic gloves and bibs. What followed was primal savagery and fiery deliciousness.

Monday: This was the first official day of orientation, and the day started with three bright red songtaews rolling up to our digs at 8 am. Thai lesson number one of this post: songtaews give me life. The bright red trucks are something akin to Uber Pool or Lyft Line, but significantly cheaper and more culturally diverse in that you sit in the Thai version of a non-enclosed pick up truck type dealio. Pictures below because as per usual my descriptive skills are slacking. You tell the driver where you want to go, and for about a 15 minute drive, you may pay as little as 20 baht (literally 60 cents..wow have I mentioned how much I love the cost of living here?!?!?) After our exhilarating songtaew ride to Chiang Mai University, we had a day chock full of Thai language class, a field trip to probably the fanciest mall I’ve ever been to, a pad thai and thai iced tea lunch for $2.85 (amazing I know, it’ll never stop being novel), and lessons on Thai politics and culture. Thai lesson number two of this post: sabai sabai and mai bpen rai are my new fav concepts in Thailand. Both roughly translate to no pasa nada or hakuna matata or no worries kind of thing. The phrases are reminders for me to accept and adopt a new problem-free philosophy, and I love it.

Tuesday: This has probably been the most eventful and culturally immersive day. After some time in the classroom, we hit the songtaews (about 10 people per one red beauty) and headed to a rice paddy to plant some precious rice. Srsly, rice is a staple of Thai life, so we were doing some unsung hero ish by wading through mud laced with what had to have been poop to help expand the (already vast) stockpiles of Thailand’s rice reserves. Next, we headed to a muay thai gym and spent an hour doing an intensive crash course of the martial art. Oh my goodness, it was such an awesome adrenaline rush and an amazing workout! Needless to say, we were all smelling pretty ripe from a pleasant mix of poopy mud and muay thai sweat on that songtaew ride home. After getting back to the hotel (and a nice long shower of course), Tavish and I decided it would be a good idea to get a Thai massage to help soothe the muscles that muay thai had wreaked havoc on. What is to follow deserves its own separate bullet point.

  • An in-depth description of my first Thai massage: The woman brought us up to a room that had tiny little padded gym mats, handed me what I can only describe as scrubs, and closed the curtain. I awkwardly fumbled as I changed into my nursing outfit, laid face up on my flimsily padded mat, and silently stared at the ceiling wondering if the lady would ever return. Once she finally came back, she spread my legs real wide. After the tiny Thai woman crawled between my legs, I had an internal struggle trying to decide if I was supposed to keep my eyes open or closed, and after an awkward eye-contact exchange, I finally decided closing them would reduce any more awkwardness. I know this internal struggle is probably only something I would go through as most sane people would know to close their eyes from the get go, but hey it was a new experience and I was already confused, so give me a break plz. Next, the woman proceeded to give me an intense Thai full body massage. Now let’s dig a little deeper here. By intense, I mean this tiny little woman was absolutely obliterating the knots in my muscles, and when I say full body I mean she definitely did not shy away from the gluteus maximus muscles, and at two separate points was doing downward dog with her hands planted dangerously, dangerously high on my inner thighs. This massage was like nothing I had ever experienced. At some points she was pounding my body like I was some hunk of dough that needed to be kneaded (LOL I’m so Punny) or some whack a mole game (choose your analogy..like choose your adventure, but more fun), and at one point she was literally karate chopping my forehead. There was a moment where I felt like the grudge because she was massaging my head with no regard to where my hair fell, and there was a period during which I learned my limits of flexibility could really be tested after she pushed my hands to my toes and then proceeded to sit on my back. I lost all track of time, but I want to say it lasted about an hour and 15 minutes, and it cost 300 baht which is equivalent to about $8.50. I walked away probably even more confused than I had been at the beginning, but also with what seemed like a bit less tension, which I guess is the whole point. Let’s just say I’m not totally sure how effective the experience was because the next day I was moving like I was just learning to walk due to some serious soreness. Obviously I’m going to have to have more Thai massages to compare because I hear every place does it differently, so stay tuned on that front. (Scroll down to Saturday for an update.)
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Nifty little doodads

Wednesday: On this day we went to Wat Umong, which is a temple where a Buddhist monk taught us how to meditate. After more Thai language class, another girl from my program and I went on a little adventure to Chiang Mai Ram, the local hospital, to get our typhoid shots. Would it have been easier to bite the bullet and have gotten the vaccine in America before I left? For sure. But getting the shot for $80 less in Thailand certainly made my wallet happy. Also, what a weird and awesome way to further discover Thai culture. The hospital can best be described as a fancy-looking DMV. It was not only comparable to the DMV in appearance, but in wait time as well. First we registered, then a nurse checked our vitals, then we had a consultation with the doctor, then we paid for the shot, then we finally got the shot. There was a lot of waiting between each step and the whole process took about an hour and a half, but yay for avoiding that nasty little bugger known as typhoid!!!

Thursday: In Europe, the mantra was “another day, another cathedral”. In Thailand, it’s been modified to “another day, another temple”. We took the songtaews up a long, winding road to Doi Suthep, where a mountain-top temple stands. The experience was amazing, and I received another blessed bracelet from a monk, upping my collection to two. I also shook some sticks to get my fortune, which basically said I’ll be successful, holla. Don’t worry, I’m including a supplemental picture for those of you experiencing some confusion after that sentence. Thursday was also the day I did my first batch of laundry. I use the term “I” very loosely here, though. I brought a big bag of dirty clothes to a little old Thai woman across the street at 8 am and came back at 5 pm to a clean batch of clothes perfectly ironed and folded. This whole laundry system is super clutch for me as I not only hate doing my laundry, but I’ve actually been known to ruin some clothes during my laundry attempts. She charged me only 100 baht for a week’s worth of clothes and also told Tavish and me that we have pretty faces and look like movie stars, so obvi I will be going back.

Friday: As a way to say thank you for getting through the week (even though this week was the easy part), our program directors took us out to dinner at an awesome little restaurant with a very pleasing atmosphere. Afterwards, a bunch of us went out to a bar for some drinks and were looking forward to our first day off.

Saturday: Almost everyone in our program decided to do a little day trip together to Bua Tong, which is known as “sticky waterfalls”. Basically, there’s something funky about the rocks that keep them from getting slippery, allowing you to actually climb up the waterfalls. It was pretty nifty if I do say so myself. After getting back from the waterfall, Tavish and I decided to try our luck with another Thai massage. Wow, just wow. This one was not only amazing, but also half the price!! I experienced one of the best massages of my life for about $3..cannot complain. Basically the type of massaging maneuvers were the same, but the technique was totally different than the other woman’s attempt at muscle warfare. Saturday night, we all ventured into Old City to take on a few more bars, and naturally I found some people to converse with in Spanish, so that was cool. It was a long night full of great fun and great friends, and led to a noon wake up the next day. No judgment please — after the week I had it was wholly deserved.

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Sunday night market

Sunday: I’m finally going to finish up the week and the post, as I’m getting tired of typing and I’m sure you’re getting tired of reading. The highlight of the day today was popping over to the Sunday night market, which is the most hoppin’ market Chiang Mai has to offer. It was so crowded, but I absolutely loved it. You could find anything your little heart desired, from elephant pants to foot massages to edible crickets (yes, I definitely tried the salty little critter and it actually wasn’t awful—it’s all about getting out of that comfort zone, people). We also got to experience a candle-lit processional during which every single person in attendance at the market stood still and went completely silent for about a minute as we held candles and paid respect to the recently passed king. It was truly chill-inducing getting to be part of that.

WOWOWOW what a week! I’m finally done, but I would like to remind you that even though you probably feel like you just read a novel (and I feel as if I just typed one), I only scratched the surface of my first week here. To sum up, I am loving it so far and cannot wait to go live new experiences that I’ll get to share with you, yeee! Now go take a nap or watch some TV or have a snack as a reward for making it through this post.

Sawad dee ka,

Your favorite insect-eating blogger

I’m coming for ya, Thailand..(after packing and 24 hours of travel)

With my move to Thailand comes some exciting news (as if me living in Thailand for 5 months isn’t already exciting enough). Drum roll please….the travel blogging is back in action! As you may remember from my Spanish blog posts, each post got a little more exciting as I became more settled and began traveling more, so bear with me as I tackle Thailand! This post will serve to explain the less glamorous side of travel: my packing process and the flight itself (in this case, a 14.5 hour flight to Shanghai, followed by a 5 hour layover in Shanghai, followed by a 4 hour flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand.) When all is said and done, we’re talking about 24 hours of travel (without factoring in the 12 hour time difference)….can I get an emphatic WOOF please?

So let’s backtrack and talk about that devilish little chore that we all love to hate. I guess some people also call it “packing”. For someone whose wardrobe is [probably] bigger than it should be and is prone to overpacking, packing is kind of my nemesis. Side note: I’d like to address my friends who have been accusing me of being a shopaholic for years. Please give me credit where credit is due for admitting I have a lot of clothes…I guess it was me that broke a closet rod once with the weight of my clothes. As for overpacking, I don’t want to get into the details due to PTSD, but let’s just say when I lived with my parents for the month of September, my ridiculous amount of unnecessary heavy luggage caused major anxiety, soreness, and a nice (thick) sheen of sweat.

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Look at that efficient packing

Now that I’ve given some context for my sordid relationship with packing, you can see why the idea of packing for 5 months wasn’t exactly giving me a warm, fuzzy feeling. At this point you probably would like to point out that I’ve done this once before when I studied in Spain for 5 months, so I should know the drill. I have two rebuttals: Thailand is a totally different country that demands different clothing and items. Second, I honestly do not remember the packing process from Spain. Truly, the only memory I have is trying to further narrow down which shoes would make the cut from 11 pairs to 7 pairs. With that being said, I’m actually proud of myself this time around. Though the process began with a huge explosion of stuff all over the floor, a few bags, a couple panic attacks, and a blank stare at the wall as I racked my brain for where even to begin, the process ended with one large suitcase (with 3.3 pounds to spare!!) full of ziplock bags of stuff, which I like to refer to as organization at its finest, one carry-on travel backpack, and one personal item in the form of a laptop bag. At the end of the day, as long as I have my passport and other important documents, lotion (Thailand adds whitening agents to theirs), a bottle of Clear Care contact cleaner (no need to delve into another rant about my contact lens issues), and a handful of shoes and clothes, I will survive. I hope you read that “I will survive part” as Gloria Gaynor would have wanted you to. Now watch me need nothing of what I packed and need everything I didn’t pack. But, spoiler alert: Thailand actually does sell clothes and shoes and soap and all that jazz. So, sing it with me now, “I WILL SURVIVE!”

So, now that the devilish chore also known as packing also known as my nemesis was out of the way, all that was left to do was actually GO to Thailand, wheeee! I started typing this post during the 15 hour flight, so it’s like you get to be on this adventure (read:  entrapment in a pressurized steel tube) with me! Surprisingly, checking in and going through security and getting on the plane was actually pretty run of the mill. I know you’re probably disappointed that I don’t have any weird stories that only happen to me, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of time for that.

Initial observations: United, you are slacking!! I must say, every other international flight I have boarded has impressed me with their amenities. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same this time around. For example, where is my personal back of seat screen with the accompanied plethora of entertainment options including but not limited to recent movies and current music?? Also, I’ve always been on international airlines that serve pretty good meals featuring their country’s food. This time around, it was chicken and rice with some sort of quinoa mix and four random leaves of spinach for lunch, a prepackaged ham and cheese sandwich (that was exactly 129 calories, not one calorie more, not one calorie less) for dinner, and eggs and potatoes for breakfast. Lastly, United’s “personal device entertainment” feature that allows you to watch movies on your laptop isn’t even working..what is this malarkey?! BUT, I can’t complain too much because I’m in the window seat, and there’s a guy in the aisle seat, but the seat between us is empty!! Thank you travel gods!

Unfortunately, this guy must have an iron bladder or something because we are now on hour 7.5 and he still has not left his seat!!! What even?! I already did the awkward dance to get around him once (no, he did not make it easy for me and opted to remain seated as I climbed over him), so I’m really not tryna do that again. My bladder is not faring so well and is begging for a lavatory again, but I’m hoping, wishing, waiting that Mr. Iron Bladder will get up sometime soon and I will quickly follow his lead. I mean, he has to right?? Update: I had to do the awkward dance again..but honestly at this point it’s become a source of entertainment watching how long this guy can go without getting up. What a great way to pass the time in the absence of wifi and “personal entertainment”. Update: 9.5 hours later, he finally got up to use the lavatory.

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Huay Kaew Waterfall stealin the spotlight

So let’s just say my layover in Shanghai was slightly high stress. After the two hour process of going through customs upon arrival, re-checking my bag, going through customs again for my next departure, making it through security, and all of the heinous lines that went along with all of it, I have some time to kill. Unfortunately I’m in wifi purgatory..the dreaded ~in between~ for which your device claims you’re connected but the page keeps “loading” and never fully loads, so for all intents and purposes, I’m still disconnected. But I don’t even cur because in 5 short hours (after this day, 5 hours is a blink of an eye—what does this phrase even mean? Wouldn’t that just be a wink?), I’ll be stepping foot in Chiang Mai!!! But naturally, I spilled some melted butter on my shirt during my flight, so can’t wait to meet all these new people looking like a slob (though I must admit, the butter stains are not the only factor — you try traveling for 24 hours and coming out of it looking like a supermodel). WELL, I finally made it to Thailand, and I can’t wait to start exploring! So far I can tell you that it is nice and hot, green tea Kit Kats are the bomb, Chiang Mai has a gorgeous waterfall, and it’s BYOTP here (bring your own toilet paper..for real, every man for himself). Stay tuned for updates on my Thai adventure!

Yours truly,

The 24-hour traveling supermodel

Graduation: the epitome of ambivalence

Wow, this is so embarrassing. Remember when I announced the debut of this blog last summer and then I only made one post? Yikes, I’m the worst. Anyway, here we are now, almost a year later, and I’m finally getting around to my second post! Let’s not dwell on my laziness and instead rejoice in the fact that I’m finally blogging again..it’s the little things in life. The reason I haven’t gotten around to another post until now (bear with me, I know the excuse I’m about to give is pretty lame) is because I was busy living the highs and lows of my senior year at IU. I couldn’t be distracted by such things as typing down my thoughts..although I will admit I did find the time to squeeze in an embarrassing amount of Netflix. The inspiration and motivation to finally hit the ground running (or hit the keyboard running if you will..you missed my puns didn’t you?) came from the momentous occasion of my graduation. Granted, it’s been over a month now, but hey I needed some time to develop my thoughts about post-grad life before diving right in.

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Doing big things because of these supportive people

So, isn’t “ambivalence” such a great word? And wow, just so fitting in this instance. Graduation is weird. It stirs up a lot of competing emotions. I’m nostalgic and hopeful and melancholy and excited and relieved and anxious. Okay, sorry, I’m done flaunting my wide range of knowledge regarding emotions. The point is, a lot of things have been happening and will be happening in the near future that give me a “whoa” feeling. (I’m attempting to balance out my earlier vocabulary word vomit with a simple “whoa”..you’re welcome).

To catch everyone up, I’m in a bit of a limbo. I’m living in Bloomington for the summer (shout out to that chill Bloomington summer vibe) and working two jobs for the time being. The first job..drum roll please..is a Housing Assistant position with RPS. Yes, you heard that right, RPS. No, I simply cannot escape employment with good old Residential Programs & Services. But hey, at least I changed positions, right? For this job I get to sit at the center desk of Briscoe dormitory and answer any and all questions lil summer camp attendees may have. I also get to answer the phone and ease the minds of incoming freshmen’s worried parents. Lastly, I get to give tours of Briscoe for which there’s a script we’re expected to follow. One of the items on this script is introducing yourself, which includes telling the audience your year at IU. That part’s especially fun. All in all, the gig’s not too shabby.

So, what’s my second job you ask? I’m an “Advertising Coordinator”, which is really just a fancy way of saying I’m a saleswoman. I give pitches to local businesses to take out ad space with the company I work for. Envisioning me in a sales role may give some of you a giggle, but I implore you to take that giggle back because I’m actually not half bad. I just try to suppress my awkward tendencies to the best of my ability and let my natural charm do the talking. This one’s fun because I get to meet a plethora of different people, which basically just brings people-watching to a whole new level. Also, more importantly, it’s actually taught me a lot about Bloomington. For example, were my fellow IU students even aware that Bloomington has not one but TWO roundabouts sprinkled throughout the town?! It also just dawned on me that I  said “fellow” students..I guess I can’t say that kind of thing anymore because I’m old and irrelevant. Anyhow, I get to talk to people and see an entirely different side to Bloomington, so being an “Advertising Coordinator” isn’t half bad.

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Look!!! Both roundabouts in one screenshot — simply amazing!

Finally, we’re approaching the most important and anticipated section of the post. I call it “Thailand”. The reason I’m currently in limbo is because I’m biding my time until October, which is when I embark on my journey to Thailand. I’m well aware of how cheesy that “embarking on my journey” thing sounded, but I don’t care because it’s THAILAND. I’ll be going through Greenheart Travel’s Teach English Abroad program for a semester and returning in March. So, I’ll take my bow now for finding such an epic way to postpone the joys of full-on adulthood such as a 9-5 office job, 401(k) plans, and insurance premiums. Frankly, I’m proud of myself for even knowing what the real world entails..that’s the first step to adulthood, right? Anyway, here I find myself feeling ambivalent again — nervous for my arrival to Thailand yet excited for the adventure, terrified for my future responsibilities in America come March, yet eager to embrace the challenge and satisfaction of being truly independent. And more great news — living abroad means a revival of my travel blog, YEEEEE. So, here’s to graduation and all the goodbyes I’ve had to say to make way for all these exciting new opportunities.