One year ago.

thailand

One year ago today I embarked on the journey of a lifetime. To leave my family, friends and job in NYC to teach English to 4th graders on the other side of the world, in Thailand.  Although it was unconventional, had nothing to do with my career, and it meant traveling alone to a very, very far away place, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I truly believe it was one of the best learning and life experiences I have had thus far.  Since returning and deciding what is next on my life agenda, I sometimes forget the lessons and richness of the experience. However, on an interview yesterday, I was asked an interesting question. “What was the most important thing you learned during your time in Thailand? What surprised you?” I was honestly caught off guard. During my interviews I am very rarely asked a serious question about my time in Thailand. Mostly people are curious, ask me how I got there, but never what I did once I was there. Let alone what I learned.  The main focus is usually around my relevant experience prior to Thailand, in marketing, which obviously is most practical.  So I had to pause and think.  And then it all just came to me and began rolling off my tongue before I could stop it.  Reflecting on it more now, on the anniversary of my departure, this is what I learned.

Not everything is always as it seems.

I have found most of my life I usually have preconceived notions of how things will go. Expectations, either high or low, usually mapped out in my brain before visiting somewhere new, meeting new people, visiting somewhere or even when I went off to college. I have a picture or map, planned out in my mind. Probably because of my constant need to plan and organize things. Well, that road map, picture, and idea of what my life would be like in Thailand was quickly thrown out the window. Nothing could have prepared me for the people, places or things I did and learned while there. It is the type of place that really takes all of your preconceived notions and turns them upside down, but in the most wonderful way. Whether it was my day-to-day life, teaching the kids, traveling, or the friends I made,  I always pleasantly (and sometimes not to pleasantly) surprised by the outcome. And for someone like myself, who relishes in control, productivity, and a sense of “how things should be” it was an eye opening and really helped me to let my guard down, not jump to conclusions, and take things as they come.

Slow down and let go.

It is very difficult, especially in your day to day life in the US, to just stop for a second and really take in what’s around you. I have always  struggled with that.  There is always something to do, somewhere to go, someone to see, something to buy, somewhere to eat, or another activity to keep your days, weeks and months chugging along. In Southeast Asia it is very, very different. There isn’t a sense of urgency. Besides the traffic. Especially while traveling. It is perfectly acceptable to let days roll by while you enjoy your surroundings. Coming from a family and culture where there is a need to get the most of your time and experience anywhere, see the most things, take the most pictures, meet as many people as possible, that was difficult. But I quickly learned there wasn’t always a set schedule for the bus, and the trains rarely left on time, and you will get there when you get there. This forced me, whether I wanted to or not, to learn how to let things go, slow down (mostly because at times even if I wanted to get somewhere there were 5 obstacles in my way) and just enjoy the scenery.

To be fearful is not a weakness but an opportunity.

My time in Thailand and Southeast Asia came with a lot of uncertainty and at times, fear. Not the dangerous fear, the kind where your life is at stake. But the fear of the unknown. Before going to Thailand I had never taught. And suddenly I was a teacher. To 105 fourth grade students. With not a whole lot of guidance on how to do so. It was terrifying. But you take it day by day. You mess up. Sometimes you get it right. And it gets easier.  The students, teachers, and friends make it easier. And the students at the end of the day, don’t know you’re afraid. All they want to do is love you and learn from you and their open-hearted acceptance makes you become a better teacher than you thought you could be.  To do things that scare you will help you learn more than you could imagine. As long as it’s safe of course.

Before Thailand I had never really traveled alone, besides on business. But that didn’t really count. I had the opportunity for a few short trips to stake out on my own and enjoy the solitude and anxiety that it can bring. And it was wonderful. Although it can be intimidating and even scary, especially for a young woman, if you are smart and smile you would be amazed at the people and places you will see and meet along the way. Traveling alone opens up a whole different door and road for experiencing things differently.  I believe forces you to meet people and be more open to experiences you may not be open to if you were with a group of friends. On those short solo trips I met many strangers with amazing stories from around the world, I was approached by locals to dance in the park, to offer advice, and hear their stories. I was able to map out my day as I saw fit and see what I wanted to see.  What it scary? Yes. Intimidating? Definetely.  But boy was it worth it.

I know it sounds cliche but I cannot help but believe it to be so true, do something that scares you. 

In conclusion…

I cannot be grateful enough for my time in Southeast Asia and the people and experiences that came with it. There was such a richness around the whole experience and it is safe to say I have left a piece of my heart in all of the places I visited, with my students and with all the people I met along the way.  And one last thing I learned that I never thought I would truly understand – the importance of packing light. You would be amazed at how far you can go without everything you own.  Take that as you will.

Mother Knows Best

When one decides to travel across the world to do something completely outside of their comfort zone the end goal is usually something of independence, self growth, and exploration. Which is exactly what I had intended to do when I went to Thailand. What comes along with this package  however is the awareness of where those three things were coming from before embarking on your own. The dependence, self-confidence and support to explore all came from one very special person: your mom.

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In honor of Mother’s Day and the things I have learned over the last six months, I would like to dedicate this post to my amazing mother, Terry. The one who kept me alive this long so I could experience these amazing things, gave me the self-confidence and assurance to explore and grow, and inspired me to be the woman I am still striving to become. This post will be a bit different from the post I wrote about my father on Thai Father’s Day, which he so affectionately calls, “his eulogy”, but the intent is still the same.

Like most people, I think I have the best mother in the whole wide world. Being I’ve tried to travel a bunch of this place, I think I stand on good grounds when I say that. However, as with every daughter growing up, there comes a time in your relationship when your mother becomes more than just your mother. She slowly but surely, without you realizing it, morphs into one of your best friends and you begin to respect her on a whole new level. You’ve outgrown the petty arguments, somehow survived puberty and menopause together, and have reached a mutual love and respect. This happens to everyone at different times and I honestly have always had a great relationship with my mom, but I think the time it finally really hit me that our relationship was at a new level was when her and my father visited my in Thailand. And let me tell you why.

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For starters they would have never made it there without my mother. As my brother and I decided the other day, she is like our family’s business manager; the glue that keeps us together. She keeps everything in order, the seen and unseen and we would basically dissolve, be homeless, without health insurance and I would have no idea where my birth certificate is, without her. Basically my brother, father and I probably wouldn’t be citizens anymore. When I found an extremely reasonable flight for the two of them to come to Thailand she was on it like white on rice, worked out the details, was able to coordinate using some of their miles and the two of them made it over here for less than what some people pay one roundtrip flight. Girlfriend’s got it together.

Secondly, at 60 years of age my mom has decided to take control of her life and her health and lost 35 pounds. And she looks absolutely incredibly. She began Weight Watchers about a month before my departure so when she came to see me 6 months later it was like being a participant in a surprise makeover show for my family. Svelt, happy and in all of her glory I was in disbelieve how healthy and beautiful she looked. My mother has always been a beautiful woman but when someone feels great about themselves it just takes them to a whole new level, she looked fantastic and was glowing.

Team Buksar looking good!

Team Buksar looking good!

Then there was the whole trip. Traveling with your parents can be tricky, especially when you don’t have a sibling around to balance it out. Being that my dad’s first priority most of the trip was his video camera, my mother and I were mostly left to our own devices, which was fine by me. It was our time together, planning activities, having lunch, exploring, laying on the beach, sweating, kayaking, that I think our mother/daughter relationship really reached the pinnacle of a friendship. Having been away from her for 6 months, learning more about myself as well as how much I still depended on her for so many things, I realized  many of the things I was learning about myself I had learned from her.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was when we went to Railay Beach, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life and travels. While walking around and getting a lay of the land we had heard there were a few viewpoints that gave you great views across all of the beaches, ocean, limestone krags, and overall landscape. However, they were hard to find. While wandering down one path we saw what looked like an informal ropes course going up the side of a hill/mountain. After having walked all around looking for the path to viewpoint we realized that had to be it: there weren’t any other options. Looking up at it, I was skeptical. My mom looked at me and said, “Want to give it a try?” “Sure”, I said uncertainly. She went first. Grabbing ropes, finding rocks and divots for our feet, she started navigating our way up. Sure and easy of herself. I on the other hand was a bit more insecure. “Mom, if this is the way up, this must be the way down…how the hell are we going to get down?” I said. “Not sure, but want to go a little more and see how we feel?” Her cool kept me assured. Then, we spotted a few people up above us. “If that woman in the bikini can do it, we can do it.” she said. Although still a bit scared, I realized she was right. Plus if she was 60 years old and wasn’t scared to do it, then I sure as hell couldn’t be.

The ascent

The ascent

We made it. A lot of sweat, dirt, and scrambling later and we made it. And it was worth it. West Raily Beach on our left, East Railay on our right, and a back drop of lush green hills. It was really breathtaking. And I would have never made it up there without my mom. I have always considered myself someone who is willing try new things, is adventurous,  up for anything, and that’s when I realized it was because of my mom. Sure, as I had said about my Dad, he pushes us to do everything and try anything, explore and take risks to the point of abandonment. So my brother and I try to do many new things but with an anxiety and caution or a resounding NO. It’s completely different when you’re doing something different or scary and your mom tells you its okay and leads the way. A blanket of relief and “okay, this can’t be THAT bad” overcomes you and gives you the confidence to do it. So thank you mom, for the gentle pushes, casual assurances, and overwhelming sense of relief you’ve given me as I have navigated through life and up that darn hill/what-I-consider-mountain. 

We made it! West Railay on the left, East Railay on the right, gorgeousness all around.

We made it! West Railay on the left, East Railay on the right, gorgeousness all around.

The descent, we made it!

The descent, we made it!

I could go on and on about how kind, compassionate, thoughtful, funny and intelligent my mother is but then this would turn into a book and not a blog and that is not my intent….yet. So I will end with a resounding thank you and toast to the woman of the hour in honor of this past Mother’s Day. Without you I would not be here, would not have made it this far, and would not have the confidence or a role model to inspire me to go as far as I would like to go. I hope I am one day a mother as wonderful as you, so great in fact that my future children write a blog about me. Or by that point make me a hologram message I can view through a chip in my eye or something. To Terrgirl! Love ya!

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Waiting for my dad to take our picture in less than favorable conditions...This pretty much sums up our lives

Waiting for my dad to take our picture in less than favorable conditions…This pretty much sums up our lives

Thailand: What to know before you go.

I have been extremely fortunate to have many visitors during my time here in Thailand. So many that you would think I was teaching in Texas as opposed to on the other side of the world. I can’t get this many people to hang out with me when I am in America, but I move to 8,000 miles away and I am as popular as can be. I have realized it may have something to do with this amazing country I am living in. Thailand has become a global hot spot. So hot in fact, it was featured on The Bachelor season finale. Watch out Southeast Asia. You have arrived.

As The Bachelor season finale aired my friends were messaging me, “They’re in Thailand! They’re in Thailand!”. “Where?” I would ask. The response was overwhelmingly, “I told you, Thailand?” As people come to visit me and Thailand becomes increasingly more popular back West, I have realized something. Like myself, before coming here, most people know nothing about this amazing place. Being that my time here is quickly coming to a close, I would like to recap some hard and fast facts about this incredible, booming country. Allow me to introduce, Amazing Thailand.

Size does matter.

For starters, Thailand is roughly the size of Texas. Which means it’s a lot bigger and harder to get around than I had originally anticipated. Before I came here I had visions of me frolicking all over the place, beach one day, mountains the other, hop over the border to Cambodia, maybe a weekend trip to Vietnam. That is not how things work here. Ignorance is bliss.

Map of Thailand. It's bigger than ya think.

Map of Thailand. It’s bigger than ya think.

Getting around this country is easy yet extremely difficult. Flying is cheap, trains are cheap, vans and buses are cheap. Almost everywhere is connected by many forms of transportation. However, getting almost everywhere takes forever and a day it feels like. As recounted in my previous blog posts. I still don’t understand exactly why. But no trip is ever the same and it is rarely seamless. And because the country is bigger than anticipated, if you visit for 2 weeks, you will only touch the surface. The most popular destinations are Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket. As you can see above, one is north, one is in the middle and one is south. Chiang Mai is a 12 hour bus or train from BKK as is Phuket. Or an hour flight. Hell, I’ve been here 4 months and feel like I have barely touched the surface. I will leave this place not seeing every place I would have liked but I have come to terms with it. This country has so much to offer and so much beauty just seeing a fraction of it was worth it. And better than nothing!

Boom, boom, boom.

Goes the economy. Thailand is growing. Fast. After devastating flooding in 2011 that really put a damper on development (no pun intended) Thailand is back on it’s feet and running, no, sprinting ahead. This article on CNN Money really paints the picture in big, smart, financial terms better than I can (Marketing major, remember?).  Apparently the government reported GDP grew almost 19% year over year. If I remember anything from Econ, it’s that GDP is important. And it stands for Gross Domestic Product. Look at me Mom and Dad! That Bachelor’s sure was worth it!

You can see it everywhere, the growth. The move from street meat to restaurants, lots of plastic bags, processed foods, lots of construction. Lots of growth. Yet, still the slow adaption of toilet paper. And cheese. Two necessities in any developed country.

Another exciting and interesting aspect of their development is this new fancy acronym I learned about when I got here: ASEAN. ASEAN stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It’s a really smart move that I think Singapore came up with? Not sure. I just know Singapore is the future and anything they say goes. As per usual, I will copy and paste an excerpt from Wikipedia to give an overview of ASEAN.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations[5] (ASEAN pron.: /ˈɑːsi.ɑːn/ ah-see-ahn,[6] rarely /ˈɑːzi.ɑːn/ ah-zee-ahn)[7][8] is a geo-political and economic organization of ten countries located in Southeast Asia, which was formed on 8 August 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.[9] Since then, membership has expanded to include Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Its aims include accelerating economic growth, social progress, cultural development among its members, protection of regional peace and stability, and opportunities for member countries to discuss differences peacefully.[10]
ASEAN covers a land area of 4.46 million km², which is 3% of the total land area of Earth, and has a population of approximately 600 million people, which is 8.8% of the world’s population. The sea area of ASEAN is about three times larger than its land counterpart. In 2011, its combined nominal GDP had grown to US$ 2 trillion.[11] If ASEAN were a single entity, it would rank as the ninth largest economy in the world.

I always ask teachers and other Thai people what they think of ASEAN, what it means to them, to try and get a better perspective on it.

Some things I have learned:

  1. It’s kind of like the EU
  2. It will really kick off in 2015 from what I understand, like certain rules will be in place and official by then. You hear many things like “By 2015…” around here. Like everyone needs to be good at English by then or something. It’s the official language.
  3. The only “rules” I’ve heard of is that all students will be on the same school calendar starting in 2015 and they will folow Singapore’s calendar. School will start in June instead of May. Making it easier for students to go to schools in other countries in ASEAN.
  4. Like the EU, if you are a citizen of an ASEAN country, you will no longer need a visa to travel from country to country.
  5. It makes trade and development easier. Like a Thai teacher friend explained that her boyfriend is an Engineer and his company was able to go bid and win a huge project in Laos because of ASEAN. There is probably more to this but having economic discussions in broken English is difficult.
  6. No one I have asked has been able to confirm if there is going to be a currency like the Euro, but I imagine someday there will be?
  7. I obviously need to do more research.
ASEAN Member Countries. I think.

ASEAN Member Countries. I think.

ASEAN is all the rage here. School talks about it a lot. And the kids dress up like it A LOT. Mostly the kindergarten. I had to judge a Mr. & Mrs. ASEAN 2012 competition. It looked like a Thai version of Toddlers in Tiaras. But it’s impressive because most of these 5 year olds can tell you all the countries in ASEAN and I cannot.

Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink.

Back to the basics. Water. You cannot drink the tap water in Thailand. I have heard mixed reviews as to why this is. Somewhere along the way I heard it’s not the bacteria etc. that you encounter in places like Mexico and India, but more the fact that there are too many toxins or chemicals in it and that’s why even locals can’t drink it? Not really sure. Either way, no one drinks it. However it’s fine for bathing, washing dishes, food, and brushing your teeth. I have ingested some I am sure this way and I am fine.

So everyone drinks bottled water and makes ice out of filtered water. Any water and ice you are served in restaurants is made from filtered water and is safe. Which is why you always have to pay for ice, always, which is annoying. And no free refills. I miss that a lot. I like to drink a lot of water at meals.

But water is cheap and abundant. They have water filter machines everywhere that you can fill up a large water bottle with for 1 baht. Like they have one in my apartment building. I refill tons of water bottles and am good to go.

Sample water station

Sample water station

Thank heaven for 7-11.

7-11 rules Thailand with an iron fist. It has anything and everything you could ever want and is on every corner. It becomes any foreigners best friend while traveling. If you are too scared to try the food here (don’t be) or just want a Thai beer (do be), 7-11 is your godsend. I have encountered so many different packaged goods and snacks here. Some very interesting. From crab and mayo filled buns to a red bean roll, you’ll find something to satisfy your craving. There’s also obviously normal food. And cup of noodles. And microwavable dumplings. Never thought 7-11 would be my late night spot but when in a pinch, it does the trick. And you can get minutes for your cell phone here. And I think pay bills? It’s an oasis with AC in a lawless land.

This is not my local 7-11. I googled 7-11 Thailand and had about a million hits.

This is not my local 7-11. I googled 7-11 Thailand and had about a million hits.

And the knife ran away with the spoon.

But apparently the spoon came back and the knife stayed far, far away. People in Thailand do not use knives. That was an interesting adjustment. You only get a fork and a spoon when you eat out here. And the spoon is your fork. I think it’s considered rude to use the fork to put food in your mouth. You are to use the fork for cutting and moving around the food onto your spoon and you put your spoon in your mouth. Being that you eat a lot of rice here, it actually works out well, like a shovel. I read somewhere that if you use your fork for food here, it would be like trying to eat with your knife in America. I don’t think it’s that extreme. I use my fork a lot by habit and don’t really get weird looks. So many farang (foreigners) have infiltrated this country they are used to it and some places give you knives. Mostly western places.

Anyway it was interesting to get used to just having those utensils. But it works. All the kids at school had to bring their own spoon and fork to school for lunch. And they wash it everyday and keep it in their backpack. That was interesting. Going to school and not being able to eat because I didn’t have my own utensils. But they sell them in pairs at 7-11 for like 20 baht. 7-11, saves the day. Again.

It should be noted you get chopsticks when you eat noodles and soup.

Typical Thai place setting. Except that napkin would never be there. EVER.

Typical Thai place setting. Except that napkin would never be there. EVER.

Health and Wellness

Healthcare is actually pretty great here. It’s socialized and from what I hear you get sick, go to the doctor or hospital and it’s all free and you are taken really great care of. I hear if I go it’s same, same. And there are pharmacies everywhere and you can get like anything you want without a prescription.  The basics like cough medicine, allergy medicine, fever reducers, etc. But then there’s also the big stuff like birth control, pain killers, sleeping pills. I hear you can get it all, without a doctor’s note. And it’s all super cheap. Like a month’s worth of birth control pills is $3. Many girls who come here and stock up on it before going back to America.

The dentist is also really cheap. I had a friend here need to get a root canal. She went to a recommended dentist, that spoke English and I think he fixed her up for the equivalent of $100. My other friend decided to pop into this dentist we pass on the way to school and got a cleaning for 800 baht or less than $30. No appointment necessary. No insurance necessary. Pretty sweet. And no one ever seems to complain about it here. But I heard that our school’s Director needed to get surgery on his lung or something and went to the doctor and the hospital was full. That’s a disadvantage.  Anyway, not about to start that debate. Just giving the facts. If you get sick here, you can get medicine very easily and get well.  There is usually a green cross on the store, thats how you know its a pharmacy.

Pharmacy example courtesy of google

Pharmacy example courtesy of google

Know before you go.

As I have mentioned many a time, paper goods are hard to come by here. Toilet paper, paper towels. Just not a thing of importance. If you come visit Thailand you must pack little packets of tissues. And hand sanitizer. There is very rarely soap as well. Western toilets aren’t really non existant here, you can usually find one and many restaurants have them. However, you will have to use a squatter at one point or another. It’s just part of the program. It’s not that bad. Below is a squatter. That one is bad. They usually aren’t that bad.

Like I said, just pack tissues, hand sanitizer and you will be ready to go. Whenever you have to go. However, this experience has made me want to be a man more than ever.

Not one of the best.

Not one of the best.

Oh and a lot of bathrooms you have to pay for. Public ones. What’s that you say? “Not only do I have to be subjected to squatting over a porcelain hole in the ground without toilet paper, but I have to pay to use it? Blasphemy!” My thoughts exactly. But it’s only like 3-5 baht most places. So get over it.

The people…

Are amazing in Thailand. So, so amazing. Anything you’ve ever heard about them is probably true. This is the land of smiles. People are so helpful and kind and nice and usually smiling. They smile when they don’t understand you, when they are happy for you, when they are sad for you, when they are ripping you off, when they are helping you. It’s just their culture. They are kind and they know it.

I had the opportunity (and it was mandatory) to teach some of the Thai teachers at our school English this week. For a couple hours every morning. I was put with the group that were the Thai English teachers in our school’s regular program. So I didn’t have to teach them English. They knew it. So we chatted and chatted and chatted. About anything and everything. School, children, Thailand, healthcare, ASEAN, their families, favorite things, favorite places. On our third day I was asking them how to get to Si Racha, the city where the immigration office was, because I needed to check in since I have been in the country for more than 90 days. Immediately they were concerned I was going alone without a car. One of the teachers, the one with the best English who I had joked with all week, said she would take me and my friend. No questions asked. No problem. Insisted she would take us. It was so sweet. Made our lives so much easier.

I haven’t been here terribly long but those things tend to happen often. Many times Thai people go out of their way to help you, they are a kind, considerate people. I am not going to say they are all angels sent from heaven like this lady, I have gotten ripped off more times than I can count. But for the most part they are good.

This guy was our waiter on the beach one day. He was a hoot.

This guy was our waiter on the beach one day. He was a hoot.

The bad though however, is equally annoying. You will automatically get ripped off for being white here. Especially in tourist places. Our Thai friends will usually try and call and reserve a cab or car or take care of any transaction for us when they can, because they will most certainly get a better price. That gets tiring a lot. Most taxis will try and charge you a flat rate instead of turning on their meter. A taxi pulls up and you say “Meter?” and they laugh and drive away. Annoying. And they charge you 5 times what it should be. Always, always ask for a lower price. Cut the price in half and negotiate and chances are you are still getting ripped off in most transactions.

Also, although a kind and considerate people, they never, ever, ever, ever, ever, yield for you. If you are crossing the street or their driveway, they expect you to stop always, they will never stop or yield. That’s annoying. I am sick and tired of playing Frogger when crossing the street.

And lastly, sometimes they are line cutters. I have gotten cut in line at 7-11 more times than I can count. And I don’t understand that. Because they are usually so nice. And line cutting is not nice. No matter where in the world you are.

That’s all folks.

I think I covered all of the random bases. That’s all I got on Thailand. The good, the bad, the ugly. I hope this helps anyone coming to visit me or this wonderful place I have been able to call home.  I highly recommend making the journey if you are able to. It may take a while and the heat and travel may take a lot out of you but I promise, it is worth it.

Going here oh, so soon! Can't wait!

Going here oh, so soon! Can’t wait!

Monkeying Around in Lopburi

This weekend my friends and I decided to make the journey to Lopburi, Thailand, for their annual Monkey Festival. Lopburi, known pretty much only for their monkey inhabitants, is about a 3 hour drive north of Bangkok. 

We left Saturday morning around 8AM and between transferring buses and song taos etc, we didn’t arrive until almost 2PM. But the weather was crummy and rainy so we weren’t missing much. We got lunch, met up with a bunch of friends in the program who were visiting that weekend as well, made it to Old Town to see where these monkeys really were and what they were all about.ImageWell they were pretty much all over, but in clusters. According to this random guy we met from LA, there are 6 monkey clans, or gangs as he called them, each in different parts of the city. And they apparently all hang out in their respective areas and are pretty territorial. Sounded like a Jets vs. Sharks scenario. 

The monkeys are macaques and they are pretty ugly and lose their novelty very quickly. They are used to being fed by humans and getting what they want so they will snatch things from you if you get close enough. My friend was minding her own business, not even really engaging with them and one grabbed a bag of chips out of her hand – no joke. This was after she had gotten biten by one at the Monkey Festival (it didn’t break skin thank god) – it was not her day.

Anyway, Saturday night was filled with meeting up with friends we hadn’t seen in weeks, eating dinner, going to a local bar and having an all around great time. Such a great time that we didn’t realize the Song Taos stopped running at the ungodly hour of 8PM. It was sometime after midnight and we realized we had no idea how to get home or explain where the heck we were staying – it was about 10KM away. My friend Helen decided to ask the owner of the bar if he knew a way we could get home. Of course he did! His friend would drive us in the back of his pick up truck. And charge us 50 baht a head (roughly a little less than $2 but really expensive for Thai travel standards. I can get a bus to Bangkok from my town for like 70 baht.) We didn’t really have another option so off we went in the bed of a pick up truck and by some monkey god miracle, made it home safe and sound.

Sunday morning was the actual Monkey Festival. Legend has it 20 something years ago, the owner of the Lopburi Inn decided to throw a party for the local monkeys to thank them for bringing in all of the tourism the town sees. So he bought a lot of fruit, set it up in front of one of the main sights in town, an old Khmer style temple Prang Sam Yot, where a lot of monkeys live and they had themselves a party.

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Since then they do this every year, on the last Sunday in November. There are 3 feedings during the day, 10AM, Noon and 2PM. We opted for the early one since we wanted to go visit some sunflower fields the area was known for later in the day. We had breakfast, got there around 10AM, listened to announcements in Thai, saw some sort of parade go through the grounds, with a marching band and people dressed as different countries of ASEAN and monkeys, (the latter was kind of creepy) then they had a group of kids do Gangnam style dance dressed as hip hop Monkeys and then they were ready to go.

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By ready to go I mean they pulled a tarp off of the food and a strange pit of monkey stuffed animals and let the monkeys have at it. It was very strange.

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So in about 15 minutes the novelty wore off and we were interested in seeing some sunflowers. Every person we asked tried to charge us 100 baht a person, to drive 20 minutes. Which was the same price I paid to get from BKK to Lopburi in 3 hours. Insanity. Well guess who pulls up out of nowhere to offer us a ride? Our pick up truck buddy from the night before. He says he’ll cut us a deal and charge us 80 baht. For all 8 of us to sit on the bed of his pick up truck. Insanity. This guy definetely doesn’t have a job. His bumping sound system and neon yellow rims were paid for by the farang with no ride anywhere in Lopburi. Quite the hustler. 

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Either way, it was worth it. The sunflower fields were gorgeous and I love me some sunflowers. We took some really nice pictures, got lunch and began our 5 hour journey back home. 

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It’s amazing how quickly somewhere completely foreign can feel like home after a long 48 hours of traveling. I have never been so excited to see Punna Mansion and that smelly, smelly, sewage canal.

Next weekend we will be celebrating my birthday in Bangkok! And we get paid! Yippee! Going forward we are kicking it into overtime travel-wise and getting ready to keep it moving every weekend. It’s pretty tiring but I can’t believe over a month has already passed and it’s almost December! I know it’s going to fly by so I better get cracking. The country is the size of Texas and getting places takes twice as long due to the language barrier so I have a lot of ground to cover.

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I am thankful.

Being very far away from home, around any major holiday, especially one like Thanksgiving, will really get you thinking. Thinking about friends, family, home, and life. We live our lives year to year, holiday to holiday, birthday to birthday. So when these occasions come around, it’s hard not to sit and reflect about what the day means to you, whether you want to or not.

As I taught my kids the other day, Thanksgiving in America is all about being thankful. I asked them to tell me things they were thankful for and make turkey hands like we used to in school. It’s interesting to see that even though the kids had no idea what Thanksgiving was or have ever had turkey or stuffing for that matter, their Thai turkey hands were the same as any American kid’s turkey hand.  All were filled with the same things we are thankful for: family, friends, medicine, school, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and pets. One boy wrote “my machine gun” which was a bit suspicious, but other than that we were all on the same page.

Some students were a bit more materialistic than others. Others also knew how to get an A.

This of course made me think about what I am thankful for. And being very far from the comforts of home and loved ones, it really makes you realize what is important to you and what you take for granted.  So this year I am thankful for…

Toilets. A good, old fashioned, seated toilet. Call me spoiled, but I would like to go on the record saying America has the best toilets in the world. Like the grand daddy of toilets. Here they use squatters, as seen below (I used this one at a bar). This is a poor excuse for a toilet and a great excuse to get in an extra quad workout.  They don’t even flush! You have to ladle water into them to make them go. It is the worst. There are western toilets here and there will be at least one in most places, but that is not enough in my opinion. I am thankful for western seat toilets.

A place for your feet but not for your seat.

Paper products. You guessed it, toilet paper. Also a novelty in this foreign land. There is always a hose apparatus near the squatter or toilet and I don’t know if anyone actually uses it, I am sure people do. I carry little packages of Kleenex with me everywhere. DO NOT leave home without it. Never in my life have I ever thought I would be uttering the words, “Guys, that is one hell of a bathroom. Seat toilet, toilet paper, soap AND paper towels! Definitely check it out.” over dinner.

Traffic Laws. Or stop lights or roundabouts or cross walks or YIELDING. There has to be a casualty an hour in this country. I do not know how I am still alive. The taxis, motorbikes, songtaos, and normal citizen drivers have no regard for your safety or the common pedestrian. It’s like we are invisible. I thought I knew how to cross a street having worked in Manhattan for two years and being a NJ native. WRONG. There is no mercy here. Do not even think about stepping into the street if a car is within eyesight because they will speed up and they try and hit you. And they drive on the other side of the road here. Do you know how hard it is to look both ways, the opposite way, and cross the street and not die?

Wine. This is for my Maloney ladies. Boy, oh boy do I miss good wine. You can get wine here but it is only at big grocery stores and it’s expensive as far as booze goes. The cheapest bottle you can get is $10 and its like drinking grapes I crushed with my feet and left in the sun for a few hours.  A large bottle of beer is a little more than $1, so the choice is obvious. Tonight we will be trying to whip together a smorgasbord of American foods for our own personal Thanksgiving and I would kill for a nice cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc to wash it down. Instead I will probably go with Thai whiskey (super cheap) and apple juice.

Health.  On a more serious note, I am thankful my stomach is holding up okay. I always thought traveling here could have the potential for disaster due to my stomach issues and the first two things I mentioned I am thankful for, but so far I have been okay. Thank you to my doctors who put me on all sorts of new medicine and have somehow healed me.  I drink Thai coffee, try and eat slightly spicy food (which is equivalent to me eating straight up chilies) and have diary. Voila, all fixed!

Friends, family and the interwebs. I am so thankful for the Internet and the amazing ways I can communicate with my loved ones at home.  I am able to talk to my boyfriend literally everyday, morning and night, whether he likes it or not. My dad hasn’t called me ONCE since I have been here since he can read this blog,  can ask my mom what she talked to me about via email or gchat and because he now has Facebook (everyone run for the hills). I still have trouble getting a hold of my little brother because although a millennial, he would prefer we lived in simpler times with carrier pigeons. Whatever. My friends and I can message and text, I can post photos and my whereabouts all over Facebook so people get annoyed, and I even have a Thai cellphone in case of emergencies. It’s a beautiful, tech savvy life.

I hope everyone at home is having an amazing Thanksgiving filled with family, friends, and the things I mentioned above. Days like today make me realize just how far I am from home (mostly because I was forced to work, which is inhumane) but also how lucky I am to be here and have such an amazing support system on the other side.  I am so thankful for my mom, dad, brother, boyfriend, family, friends (new and old) and all the people who actually read this blog! I miss and love everyone very much! Feel free to send wine.