I started this post while I was living on Koh Tao last year. Today I dug it out of my computer and finished it. I left the intro alone even though I no longer live on Koh Tao.
I don’t like spiders. I know they are the good guys for the most part, but they are creepy. In my defense, I do have a somewhat legitimate reason to be wary of them, my house growing up was filled with spiders that used to bite me in my sleep. I guess it’s not just the bed bugs you’ve got to worry about. So this morning, when I was tying the bikini string around my neck and noticed a spider crawling on my top, I naturally freaked. I let out a pitiful squeal, hit my chest and sent the spider flying to the ground. I used to be a spider killer, but Dave has taught me otherwise, so in his honor I gently swept it outside to live with its spider friends in the outside world on Koh Tao in Thailand, where it belongs.
This entire scenario could have been avoided had I not broken Rule #1 of my six cardinal rules for living in the tropics and having to coexist with creepy crawlers. Read more
My favorite way to travel is to stay in one place for an extended period of time so I can fully immerse myself in the country I am visiting. If you don’t have a large sum of money saved up, then the only way to really travel this way is by getting a job in the country you are interested in. Lucky for us native English speakers, English teachers are in demand in many exciting parts of the world.
There are several things you must have before you are ready to teach abroad. Most organizations and people looking for English teachers want a person with a university diploma. Most of the time it doesn’t matter what you major was, they just want to know that you went to school and got a degree. Your chances of getting a competitive job are usually greater if you received a degree in education or English, but it’s typically not a requirement.
The most debated question is whether or not you need TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages)certification to be hired. I really hate wasting money and so I’ve debated whether or not I need to invest in this certification over and over again. The first time I was looking for teaching jobs, I was bombarded by advertisements attempting to persuade me to invest in their certification program. I quickly found out that I could get hired just by being a native speaker and by having a degree from an American university.
While looking for a job in South Korea this summer, I was told by a recruiter that the job market is very competitive right now and that my chances were significantly better if I completed an online certification course. The online courses run about $200 or more and the classroom courses can run a lot more than that. One of my travel buddies told me that the online courses are pretty much worthless, and for the most part, employers know that. I chose not to take the course and I still got some really great job offers. So in my opinion, the certification programs are fine if you have time and money to spend, but if you don’t, you will still be able to find a good job without it.
When applying for English teaching jobs, it is important to put every single teaching experience on your resume. I used to teach figure skating to children and adults, and although that has nothing to do with teaching English, it still shows that I am capable of explaining concepts to a class and keeping a group of children under control. Think of every single teaching or tutoring experience you’ve had and share them with your prospective school.
Since you’ve decided you are ready for a job teaching abroad you most likely have a region already in mind. If you don’t, start making a list of your top picks for countries or cities you’d like to work in. It is perfectly okay to choose a region based on wanting to travel around it. When I went to Thailand to teach English, I chose it because I knew I wanted to be in Southeast Asia and it was central to all of the other countries I wanted to visit. It wasn’t until I got there that I realized that I wanted to learn about Thai language and Thai cooking.
The next part of the search is to determine whether you are a city person or whether you could handle living in the countryside. This might be a tough question for some of you. I used to think that I could be happy anywhere. Turns out that that’s not true for me. I now know that I need a good group of fellow foreigner friends around to keep my spirits up. At the same time though, I don’t like to live in areas that are flooded with foreigners because these areas are very touristy and the native culture tends to get lost. So I like to live in large cities because you can find almost anything you need there, whether it be other foreigners or native culture. Large cities also tend to be good jumping off points for other adventures. I know people who have been perfectly content living and teaching in the boonies, I just have figured out over time that I am not one of them.
Once you’ve figured out all of those important details, you then need to start looking for employment. This requires a lot of searching and patience. I will talk about the process of looking for a teaching job in my next post.
My father was born and raised in Peru, so you would probably make the incorrect assumption that I can speak some Spanish. I tried, I really did. No matter how many classes I took during middle and high school it just wouldn’t stick. I became discouraged and gave up after the tenth grade. Speaking another language was just not in the cards for me.
By the time I went to teach English in Thailand, I had already been telling myself for six years that English was going to be the only language I would ever be able to communicate with. I had already determined that the foreign language part of my brain was not very active. Before coming to Thailand I learned that Thai has five different tones which means that one word can be said five different ways and each way means something completely different. For someone who couldn’t even learn Spanish and is more than slightly tone deaf, I didn’t see speaking Thai as a skill I would develop any time soon.
So there I was in Khon Kaen, Thailand not speaking a word of Thai other than hello. Khon Kaen is not commonly visited by foreigners, so moving there not knowing anything about Thai was like a Thai person going to Omaha without speaking a word of English. My first few days of work were spent with a Thai teacher making me repeat words over and over again until my tongue felt like it was going to fall out. My face, tongue, and teeth were never in the correct position and therefore consistently produced the wrong sound according to my teacher.
I was afraid to eat alone at restaurants because I might ask for my food to be spicy and accidentally say no duck instead, which would result in me eating a dish that makes me cry and sweat my all of my water weight out, but be duck free. I have a low tolerance for spicy food, so this seemed like a disastrous scenario. Eating in the Issan region of Thailand was dangerous. They frequently say that if it isn’t spicy then it’s not delicious. By frequently I mean about ten times a meal while they are blotting their eyes and foreheads with tiny pink napkins. You can often measure how delicious a meal was by the size of the pile of pink tissues next to their plate. My solution during my first few meals alone was to go to the 7-11 where the food was not spicy and no Thai language skills were necessary.
About two weeks into my stay in Thailand I attended a yoga class with a fellow American friend who had lived in Thailand for three years. The class started in the evening before dinner and was fine except for the fact that it was all in Thai. I had been doing yoga for five years already, so I was able to figure out what was going on, but what I couldn’t understand was why the instructor kept talking about rice. Rice (khow) was one of the few vocabulary words I’d managed to absorb at that point and it seemed to me that the instructor said it in every other sentence. I know rice is important in Asian culture, but how the hell does it relate to yoga??
I walked out of the class very hungry and immediately asked my friend why the teacher was so obsessed with food. It turns out that my tone-deaf ears couldn’t pick up the fact that she was using two different tones, neither of which was the right tone for rice. She was actually telling us to inhale and or do something with our knees every time she said it.
The tones are what make Thai difficult to learn. Without them it would actually be an easy language to master since you don’t have to worry about conjugating verbs which was one of the things that made Spanish so difficult for me to grasp. By the time I had properly conjugated the verb I wanted to use, the listener would have already given up on me. One of the most annoying parts about learning Thai though, is that no matter how many times you say the word you want to use, if you don’t say it in the right tone nobody is going to help you out and guess what you are trying to communicate. They will just smile or ignore you.
It used to almost anger me that I was trying so hard and nobody would make even a little bit of effort to think about the context of the conversation and the word that was coming out of my mouth. They would just say they didn’t understand. When somebody tries to speak English I go out of my way to guess what they are trying to say, but nobody would take the effort to do the same with me. I finally came to realize that people who speak tonal languages don’t think about words in the same way that I do. When I hear a word I hear the word and the tone separately. I remember that khow can be used for rice, knee, and inhale and that each have a different tone. A native Thai speaker thinks of each of these words completely separate from each other. So when I would forget the tone that goes with the word I wanted to say and I would naively say the word in five different tones, it just sounded like five different random words to the listener. I suppose if I was having a conversation with a beginner in English and they started listing off five random words in the middle of a sentence I would think they were nuts as well.
While living in Khon Kaen, one of the Thai teachers continuously compared me to her five year old child. She said that I didn’t eat spicy food, I got swarmed by mosquitoes, and my Thai verbal skills were on par or worse than her kid. This comparison bugged me for a while since I was really trying to learn and fit in. Then I started to accept that Thai people are very honest and aren’t overly polite about feelings like we are. I figured this out when one of the teachers singled out the fat kid in class and made him stand up and proceeded to joke about how big he was. A few months later when my very good Thai friend said I looked fat that day, I was a bit appalled but understood that it wasn’t said in a malicious way. In her eyes she was just being observant.
I’ve been practicing and learning Thai for about nine months now and although I feel comfortable with the basics of the language, I still make many mistakes and have to work around my limited vocabulary. When my friend asked where I was going the other day, I nonchalantly said to get a massage. Somehow I managed to screw it up enough that I ended up saying to go get high which confused her and shocked her mother who was standing close by. I had no idea what I’d said and I’m happy they corrected me even though it was embarrassing. Now I have a new vocabulary word. Just yesterday I thought I was saying that a toddler was scared (glooa) and instead the word banana (glooai) kept coming out of my mouth. Nobody corrected me, but the folks around me must have thought I was a very confused farang (foreigner).
I’ve successfully proven myself wrong. I am fully capable of learning another language. My brain wasn’t the problem when I was trying to learn Spanish; the problem was the setting. Some people are textbook and classroom savvy when it comes to learning a language, but immersion is the best way for me. I’m not fluent, but I’m happy just being able to communicate. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll learn Spanish.
If you are traveling to Thailand, here are a few basic phrases that you might need.
Hello: Sawadee ka/kraap*
Thank you: Khap koon ka/kraap*
How much is this?: Tao rai ka/kraap*?
Where is the bathroom?: Hong naam tee nai ka/kraap*?
*Ka and kraap are said at the end of a sentence to be polite. If you are a female you say ka at the end of your sentences and if you are male you say kraap.
Alright, here’s a post for all you foodies out there. One of the teachers invited me over for a little cooking lesson after aerobic dance yesterday. Megh Tiew and her sister taught me how to make Gang Jewt Kai Nam (Lightly Flavored Soup with Egg) and Pad Taow Oo (Fried Tofu). Both of these are easy to make and aren’t spicy. I’ve written down the recipes, but since they don’t use teaspoons and tablespoons to measure things out, I am guessing on the amounts, so don’t trust them one hundred percent. Here are the rough recipes and a video of my cooking lesson. Bon appetit!
Gang Jewt Kai Nam
6-8 small cloves garlic, chopped
2-3 cups water
1 cucumber, sliced
handful sliced onions
handful torn lettuce leaves
about one teaspoon powdered chicken flavor
about one tablespoon (maybe more?) mushroom sauce
about 1 cup seasoned ground pork (optional)
Heat oil on high. When hot, add garlic. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Once fried, remove garlic from oil. Set aside.
Fry two eggs in remaining oil. Once cooked, remove from wok. Set aside.
Add water and cucumber to the wok. Cover and let cook for a couple of minutes.
Place spoonfuls of meat in water with cucumbers. Cook for a couple of minutes while stirring.
Add remaining vegetables, powdered chicken flavor, and mushroom sauce. Stir. Cook for a few minutes.
Add fried garlic and eggs from earlier. Cook for a few more minutes.
Serve with rice.
Pad Taow Oo
8-10 small garlic cloves, chopped
1 package of tofu, cut into 1 inch squares
about 1 or 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
about 1 tablespoon mushroom sauce
1/3 cup water
about 1 teaspoon sugar
about 8 green onions chopped into 2 inch long pieces
Heat oil on high. When hot, add garlic and tofu. Fry for a couple of minutes on med-high heat.
Add oyster sauce, mushroom sauce, sugar and water. Stir. Cook for a couple of minutes.
My dental history is not what I would call ideal. Before I started using toothpaste with a prescription level of fluoride in it, every dental check up ended with me making an appointment to take care of at least one cavity that was found during my cleaning. As a result, I have become the paranoid patient. I am a rabid flosser and can be found flossing even in a semi-unconscious state because otherwise guilt and anxiety will haunt me. So, being the diligent dental patient that I am, I decided that I needed to get a check-up before I begin traveling to countries that might not have as reliable dental care as Thailand.
Upon arriving at the clinic, my first task was to make sure that I was in fact at the dental clinic. There was a big sign outside to the right of the building that said Dental Clinic, but it wasn’t very specific as to which building the clinic might be, and I’ve found that every time I feel confident in my ability to determine where or what something might be, I’m proved wrong. There was no need for me to start demanding to see a dentist if I was not actually in a dental clinic after all.
After establishing that I was in the correct building, I then had to figure out why they wouldn’t let me see a dentist. They were trying to convey some kind of problem to me and I was doing my best to understand their Thai. The office is closed. It is Wednesday. The office is closed. No dentists. Come back at five in the evening. Go over there. It seemed odd to me that a clinic wouldn’t open until five, and since my Thai is still a little untrustworthy, I decided to double check with somebody else who hopefully spoke English.
I told the four ladies that I understood and subtly moved to the next window, out of their view, to try again. I began my line of questioning in the same broken Thai, and instead of trying to explain the situation in Thai to me, the woman behind the glass decided to just call an English speaker. I greatly appreciated this, and found that I had understood the first four ladies correctly.
I came back to the clinic at five holding a section of my Thai notes on doctors, hoping that I would be able to effectively convey in Thai what I wanted. Unfortunately, the word for cleaning wasn’t on my vocabulary list, and I realized while I was waiting for them to call my name, that all I could say was want dentist, do I have a cavity? and my tooth hurts.
It occurred to me that if the dentist spoke as much English as the people at the front desk, then I was going to have to find a different way to communicate that I wanted a cleaning, some x-rays, and a check-up. I started thinking of how I would pantomime the word cleaning, and imagined the look on the face of the dentist as he wondered why I wanted to sweep the floor. I decided that if need be, my best bet was to phone a friend.
I made sure to sit front and center in the waiting room, and after a short wait, a dentist came into the room looked directly at me and tried to pronounce my name. I was very relieved to find that my dentist spoke English and explained to him what I wanted. He looked at my teeth for a few moments, told me they looked good and to wait in the waiting room for x-rays to be taken.
Once my x-rays were done, I went back to the waiting room for about thirty minutes, during which I examined the posters on throat ulcers, braces, cavities, and mouth cancer caused by cigarettes. The pictures gave me the heebie jeebies, so I decided to sit and watch the television, which was playing some kind of news report done by a man in drag (aka ladyboy). I was thinking about how wonderfully liberal Thailand is regarding sexuality, when a woman came out and used the staring technique to indicate that it was my turn again.
It was time for the verdict and a cleaning. I sat down and they reclined my seat so far back that my feet were a little bit higher than my head. A towel was laid on my chest, and I was surprised when the assistant unfolded the towel and pulled it up to cover my face. There was a circular hole in the towel leaving only my mouth and nose exposed.
I had to hold back the giggles when the dentist moved the towel a little to expose one of my eyes, so that she could tell me that my x-rays were fine, I had clean teeth, and zero cavities. I was happy to hear that, but wondered how they could tell all of that with just a few molar x-rays and less than a minute of tooth inspection. What about poking my gums with that sharp pokey tool? After complimenting my good dental hygiene, she covered my eye with the towel again and started cleaning.
The trip was successful, although, I don’t necessarily feel that it was thorough enough. I was very happy to find that my silly charades act wasn’t necessary because the dentists spoke great English. And to top it off, it only cost me twenty-six bucks! If you ever find yourself in need of dental care in Thailand, I think you’ll find yourself in good hands. I recommend not looking at the graphic mouth cancer pictures in the waiting rooms though.
Two and a half years ago, while I was traveling on Semester at Sea, I was surprised when cell phones would appear in locations like the forest of Vietnam or a small village in India. It was a little bit of a surprise to me that the cell phone revolution had really spread everywhere and was changing communication worldwide, not just in developed countries. I didn’t dwell on the thought too much though. A cell phone would ring, I would think “that’s odd, who here has a phone?” and then move onto my next thought.
Now that I’m living in Thailand though, I’ve been thinking a lot more about this thought. Every single person I have met in this country has had a cell phone. All of my students who come from poor and middle class families have cell phones, all of which are far more advanced than the hand me down cell phone I use. Cell phones are everywhere and there is a different kind of cell phone etiquette, or perhaps a lack of one, that accompanies the devices.
No matter who you are having a conversation with and no matter how important the topic at hand may be, a Thai person will still answer their phone should it ring. Occasionally they will apologize first before picking it up and sometimes they will talk in an almost inaudible voice on the phone to make up for the interruption, but this isn’t always the case. I was offended by this behavior in the beginning. In the states if someone answered their phone while I was mid-sentence I would be put off and think that they were rude. It’s a way of showing me that I’m not significant enough to deserve your full attention. Apparently this behavior is not considered rude here though; it actually hasn’t occurred to most people that this might be impolite.
I was a little shocked to notice this as I was learning about Thai customs and how important respectful actions are in Thai culture. Toddlers learn to wai (bow head with hands in prayer) to elders at a very early age and a student that can be a brat in class will still be extremely respectful by waiing or helping me outside of class, for example. I found myself wondering why a culture that values respectful behavior so much would allow such impolite cell phone behaviors to continue?
During one of our first work meetings, the idea that teachers in our organization will not answer their phones in class was introduced. I was startled to find that this was even an issue. Why would a teacher answer their cell phone mid-sentence during a class in front of their students? What kind of example does that set?
The excuses started to pour out. What if the director calls us? What if our husband calls? What if my family is hurt? Waiting a half hour for the class to finish before calling a person back didn’t seem like an option to them, or at least it was an option that could only result in bad endings.
Family is so important here that the idea of ignoring a call from a spouse or sibling or parent is preposterous. The way I see it though, cell phones are using one pillar of Thai society, family, to chip away at another pillar, respectful behavior. Cell phones cause people who care about their family to become disrespectful towards whoever might be in conversation with them. But then again, nobody seems to find this disrespectful or annoying other than foreigners, so I guess if Thai society is okay with it then I should be too.
Now I only get annoyed when someone answers their cell while talking to me. I will not give up on the idea that teachers should not answer their phones in class though, that will always be unacceptable to me.
As I mentioned in my last post, I took a New Year’s vacation down south to see some friends. Hanging out with Bobby, Will, and Petra was exactly what I needed. It was great to see a different part of Thailand, and visiting Phuket and Koh Samui made me appreciate the Northeast much much more.
My vacation started with a six hour bus ride from Khon Kaen to Bangkok. I was expecting an uncomfortable bus ride, but much to my surprise it was the nicest bus I’ve ever taken. I should have figured this though, because every time I have expectations, Thailand shows me the exact opposite of whatever it was I was imagining.
The bus pulled out from the station at exactly noon and arrived at almost exactly 6:00PM, which was quite amazing since nothing ever happens on time here. A cute Thai girl adorned in a silver Thai silk suit served fruit juice, water, a snack, a hot lunch and some milk over the course of the journey. The chairs reclined and gave massages if so desired. I was in heaven! The cherry on top was the Thai variety show and movie that they played on the TV. Thai entertainment is as corny as Telemundo, only much worse, which means it is so much fun to watch.
My friend Dow (her name means stars), her boyfriend, and his father picked me up at the bus station in Bangkok. We went straight to a massive market where we searched the stands for the ingredients for our seafood dinner. We bought large prawns, crabs, fish, an octopus, vegetables, and desert. Unfortunately, I left my camera in the car so I don’t have any pictures of the market, but I’m sure it’s not the last time I’ll be visiting it so I’ll take some pictures next time.
They cooked one of the most wonderful meals I’ve had in Thailand so far. There was a hot and spicy prawn soup, shrimp with snow peas, grilled crab and octopus, fish, and rice. I couldn’t have asked for a better meal. The next morning we had the leftovers for breakfast along with an octopus stir fry and some crab stir fried with garlic and morning glory.
After breakfast we walked around the garden looking at the cockatoo, the peacocks, and the Thai speaking parrot. I was confused when Dow said that we would take a tour of the house, which I’d thought I had already done. It turns out the house is on a fruit farm! I had no idea since we had arrived in the dark the night before. We took motorbikes around the farm where they had jack fruit, banana, coconut, and dragon fruit trees. I sampled a little of everything and was so full by the time they dropped me off to catch my next bus.
After waiting an hour for my bus to Phuket I finally sat down in my seat at around 7PM. I was stuck with a seat in the very back of the bus where none of the seats recline, and appeared to be the seats reserved for the people who were traveling alone since most people were traveling in pairs. It was an uncomfortable bus ride and I awoke at one point to find my blanket and purse soaked. It was raining outside and the roof above me was leaking. As if not being able to recline my chair wasn’t uncomfortable enough, now I was wet as well.
There was about a foot or so of water covering the entire highway so the bus drove slower than it usually does and as a result we arrived in Surat Thani around 7am when we should have arrived around 5. They dropped us off and we waited for an hour or two which is when we were shuttled into a van which took us to another shop where we waited for another two hours. When my bus to Phuket finally arrived I had to walk through quite a bit of water and despite my attempts to stay dry, my pants ended up getting completely soaked. I spent the next five hours sitting on the bus in wet pants.
I arrived in Phuket around 4PM after having spent 21 hours traveling. I was so excited to see Bobby and Will though, that I didn’t really care about the bus experience, in fact, it sounds much worse than it felt. That night we went to Ko Panyi, a Muslim fishing village, and spent the next day hiking in Phang Nga. My last day in Phuket we went to Karon beach, which was my only beach day of the entire trip. I had so much fun with Bobby and Will who make me laugh so much. I kept thinking how wonderful it would be if Rachel, Logan, Arin, and Des could have been there though! Next time maybe?
On the 30th I took an eight hour bus/ferry trip to Koh Samui to see Petra. Petra is working as a butler at an absolutely stunning resort called Six Senses (http://www.sixsenses.com/Six-Senses-Hideaway-Samui/). I highly recommend it if you are looking for a lush beautiful resort to stay at. Although I’m not sure I would recommend Koh Samui itself as a destination. It is swarming with tourists and despite some very beautiful views, the amount of development on the island took away all of the magic for me. If you are looking for Thai culture you will only find a watered down version here.
I didn’t really come for the island though, I went to see Petra. I arrived in Thailand one week before her and we call each other constantly to share both good and bad experiences. We have very different jobs and live in very different parts of Thailand, but we both have shared similar emotions and challenges throughout our experiences here.
I spent New Years Eve at some bars on the beach in Chewang. Fireworks and good luck lanterns were released into the sky everywhere. The island was teeming with drunk tourists and unfortunately some Thai people use this as an opportunity to bring out pet monkeys and even eagles for drunk tourists to take pictures with. I felt so bad for the poor animals who are brought to the loudest part of the island, where even I can barely handle to be, and are forced to take pictures with stupid tourists. It broke my heart.
My trip to Samui was cursed with rain, so I didn’t manage to get to the beach. We still found plenty of fun activities to do though. We went to the movies, for a hike, and we popped into a Zen art gallery where we met the a fantastic artist. She was a true artist at heart and wanted nothing to do with money. Her sister took care of the business end of things and she insisted that Petra and I each take a painting that spoke to us even though neither of us had enough money. I chose one with a teal mandala and some black bamboo painted on it.
On the third I started to make my way back to Khon Kaen. Which started out easy enough but took a turn for the worst when I was left stranded somewhere in Surat Thani due to reasons that are still unknown. I may have been sold a ticket for a bus that didn’t exist…we will never know for sure though. After an hour of driving around with an off duty cop who wanted to help me, I finally caught up with a group going to Bangkok and did not have to buy another bus ticket. I finally got lucky, and was seated in a seat that reclined really far, making my ride to Bangkok extremely comfortable. It took me thirty hours to get from Koh Samui to Khon Kaen and was so unbelievably happy to be back in a city where things are cheap and people are extremely nice. I am so glad I was able to see my friends, but I am also really glad to be away from all of the tourists. This trip was exactly what I needed to appreciate the Northeast.
I’ve never considered myself to be a religious person, but despite my lack of religion, there is a strong amount of wonder and respect that comes over me when I see Buddhist monks. My first real encounter with Buddhist monks was on Semester at Sea during my travels through Burma. My three traveling partners, our four guides, and I woke up early one morning and watched hundreds of monks in deep red robes walk barefoot through the streets of Bago. It was a silencing experience. And now, being here in Thailand, I find myself feeling the same way. It’s a hard feeling to describe. A lot of it is respect, extreme respect.
A few weeks ago I found myself on a songtow (the pick-up truck bus system) with a Catholic nun who spoke English and I realized quite how differently I felt about Buddhist monks and Christian nuns. Nuns give up everything to devote themselves to their religion like monks do, so why do I feel filled with respect and awe when I am around a monk and not when I am around a nun?
I think it comes down to the differences between the two religions. As a foreword, I am by no means an expert on religion and I most certainly do not mean to offend anyone with this post. With that being said, Christianity conjures a defensive feeling for me. It has always felt like such a conquering and invasive religion. I know there are many good things that come out of the Christian church, but I always feel like I need to be ready to strongly defend my beliefs when I encounter the Christian religion.
With Buddhism though, an overwhelmingly peaceful aura is instantly created for me. I feel that I do not need explain myself, they are okay with who I am and no judgment is passed on me. Maybe that’s what it comes down to, judgment. I don’t feel judged for my beliefs. Whatever the reason, I really enjoy the Buddhist culture here.
This is what I have been thinking about this week after my field trip to Wat Poh with the fourth, fifth, and sixth graders of Nonthun School. The students stayed at the temple for three days and two nights. Unfortunately I was only able to go for one day because the other two days I had to work at a different school. It would have been fun to spend three days there, but I’m not sure if fasting after lunch for three days is quite my cup of tea. Anyone who knows me knows that I get grumpy on an empty stomach and dealing with kids and trying to speak Thai without any fuel is a little too much for me at this point in my stay here.
The temple was small but the grounds were enchanting. The art teacher and director of Nonthun School are amazing artists and have painted the entire area as you can see below.
While the kids had classes with the monks, I practiced my Thai with the other teachers. It was the first time I really began to feel like part of the faculty, which was extremely exciting. At one point I decided to walk around and take pictures of the building and as I was doing so one of the monks started talking to me, in Thai of course. We had a conversation about where I am from, what I do, where I work, our names, and religion. It was invigorating. Not only was I having a conversation with a monk, but was I doing it all in Thai!
After he walked away, I continued taking pictures of the building. I heard him call out Duan (it means moon and is my other Thai nickname) and when I walked over to meet him I found him holding a flower for me. He told me the name of it, which translates to blue chicken flower, and held it out for me.
The next part was especially interesting for me. Monks can’t touch women. I have to sit and stand as far away from monks as I can in order to make sure an accidental touch does not happen. I found out after I went to the temple that women should not so much as hand something to a monk. If a woman is touching something at the same time as a monk, it is considered to be a connection and is not allowed. I wish I had known this before I’d gone to the temple. When this monk reached out to give me the flower I wasn’t sure what to do. The moment and the memory of it seem to go in slow motion for me. As I reached out to take the flower I wasn’t sure how to get it. In retrospect I should have cupped my hands under the flower and let him drop it into my hands, but I am still a little clumsy with Thai customs, so I lightly grabbed the other end of the flower. He then let go of his end and moved away.
Afterward I was filled with delight. This was the best flower I had ever received. Not only was it an exotic flower with a great name, it was given to me by a monk. I felt so special. Now though, after talking to a friend about the experience, I am afraid the gift may have not been as wonderful as I imagined. Apparently he should have put the flower on the ground and let me pick it up so as to make sure that no connection would be made. I did not know this before, but he must have, so I’m not sure now if this experience was inappropriate or not. It didn’t feel inappropriate for me, but then again my scale of what is appropriate or not is slightly different. His intentions will remain a mystery for me, but I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt and think that he was making a kind gesture toward a foreigner living alone in Thailand.
**If anyone knows the name of this flower in English let me know.
Loy Krathong is a holiday celebrated on November 12th here in Thailand. You are probably asking yourselves why I am posting about this so late, and I have no good excuses. I don’t know why it has taken me three weeks to write about it. The holiday was explained to me as being an opportunity to ask Mother Nature for forgiveness for all of the bad things we do to her, primarily for all of the bad things we put into the water systems. Everyone makes krathongs (little rafts) out of slices of banana tree trunks, banana leaves, and flowers. Candles and incense are placed in the center along with some money and possibly some fingernail clippings if you so desire. As you release your krathong into the river (or lake if you don’t have a river) you are supposed to say a prayer for forgiveness and I think you get to make a wish, at least that’s what I was told.
The irony of the holiday seemed to be completely lost on almost every single participant. Loy Krathong is a big festival here and is much like a county fair. There are games, tons of food, and many many shops. The amount of trash that piled up by the end of the night was horrifying. Nobody seemed to notice that on the same night we ask for forgiveness for all of the bad things we do to the environment we were also destroying it. Not to mention the obvious fact that while we ask for forgiveness for polluting the water we are putting yet another piece of litter into the water.
My float was made out of a banana tree that one of the girls who taught me to make my krathong cut down from her neighbors yard. So not only were we littering in the lake, we were also killing and stealing trees. At least our krathongs were made out of biodegradable material though. Some people make their krathongs out of styrofoam, which makes me wince to think about. Of all things to ask for forgiveness with, they choose styrofoam?!? An environmentalists worst nightmare!
Other than that, Loy Krathong was very fun. I tried a corn and coconut waffle which was surprisingly good and had a great time making my krathong. Here are some pictures of the krathong building party we had. I kept asking myself what would Martha do if she were given some pins, banana leaves, and flowers…here are the results.
Prasat Pueai Noi:
A week ago I went on a field trip with two of my sixth grade classes to Prasat Pueai Noi, which is about an hour outside of the city. I was told that we were going to “a temple…kind of,” so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It turned out to be the ruins of an old castle which was the largest Khmer sanctuary in the Northeast of Thailand, at least according to the sign at the Prasat, it seemed a little small to be deemed the largest though. It was used as a Hindu temple, which is only obviously evident by the remaining carvings of Vishnu on some of the beams.
I’m not sure the description I would give of our field trip bus would really do it justice, so here is a little video of it. I was kind of excited at first because I thought I would get to ride in the back (in the cage) with the kids, but I am really glad I didn’t because on the way back to school two kids hurled everywhere. I was very thankful for being smushed in the front with the other two teachers and the driver after that.
P.S. Regarding the political situation here, don’t worry! I am so far away from Bangkok it hasn’t changed my daily life at all. Thanks for all of your thoughts though, and Jet I will totally take you up on your offer if I start to feel like things are getting bad. Thank you so much!