Friday, October 26, 2012

Farang ride motorbike (and first week of teaching)

It's Friday!! Hallelujah! It's been an.... interesting week.

We got the motorbike back on Monday and spent quite a bit of time practicing our motorbiking skills (ok...Ethan was driving the whole time so I didn't practice, but whatever) and riding about town. The motorbike makes a world of difference here because it's just too hot to walk or pedal bike. Anyway, we also started teaching on Monday!!
The entrance to the school complete with roundabout (freshly painted, but usually has a bunch of red arrows to show you which side to stay on), Buddha on the left, and a student on a motorbike getting to school on a Saturday. The students here love being at school before and after school and apparently on the weekends too...
We were told last week that we would have to introduce ourselves at the morning assembly. So we were kind of prepared for that, but it was still humiliating getting up in front of the entire student body as well as the staff and speaking a language that many of them don't understand. But it was over quickly, so we got over it. We spent the following hour or so in a meeting with the teachers we'd be working with, Kru Rin and some other English teachers. We went over our schedules and (Ethan and I) met our Thai co-teachers. We learned quite quickly that there English was not so good and that we were going to need to hear their names several more times to remember them.

Since we missed the first two periods on Monday I only had two periods to go to and Ethan only had one. It was a nice way to ease into teaching subjects in English. I teach 3 different levels of math and Ethan teaches biology, chemistry, and general science. The Thai school system works a bit differently than (I would say) most American schools. The secondary level is grades 7-12 - they call them matyoms 1-6. Within each grade there are different levels as well, which are designated by a letter a-h (a being the highest and h the lowest). So I teach matyom 4a, b and c as well as matyom 5a and h and matyom 1a and b. Each class does not meet every day, so it's a little confusing, but they gave us very helpful charts so we know what class we have and when it is. Ethan teaches a variety of grades and levels too. Some of the levels (as far as I can tell) are about the same as far as the behavior and skill level of the students, but there are some that are markedly different in skill level.

Another Buddha on the school grounds and one of the four academic buildings.
Each teacher expects us to help them teach math or science in English in a different way. One of my co-teachers has only had me explain some words and concepts in English, while one of them is having me create and teach the entire lesson (very daunting at first, but it went well...I think). Ethan is working with one teacher who barely speaks English and hands the class over to Ethan half way through (Ethan- without notice and with the words, "you teach now.") So it's a huge adjustment from what we are used to, but we are slowly figuring out how to make our way through each day. The hardest thing is knowing if the students understand what you're teaching. We try to talk slow, enunciate and use words they understand, but when you say "Do you understand?" Some say yes and some just stare at you like "What did she say?". (Is this real life?)

Tuesday was a holiday (Ethan- The holiday was for King Rama V, who is known as one of the greatest kings of Thailand and a king of kings. He really did a lot of amazing things and sounds very intelligent. One example is how he looked at America abolishing slavery and went about it slightly different to prevent a civil war. Look him up. He's also the king depicted in the movie, "The King and I."), so we tooled around on the motorbike most of the day and hung out. There isn't too much to do here in Tha Wang Pha, and Nan was just too far for a Tuesday. We took the bike out of town and when we felt like we were getting into no man's land we turned around. It was a nice break from the same things we see everyday. The mountains are incredible and it was all we could do to not just take off for them. :] We love mountains (except when we have to ride pedal bikes over them).

Taken from the English building looking at the Math building. The tile is new (you can see workers in the background on a Saturday) and they are doing a lot of other work on the school grounds to prepare for the princess to come to our school next month.
Wednesday and Thursday were pretty uneventful except for the wild goose chase to find somewhere to exchange the last of our US dollars. In order to get our work permits here the school has to send in a bunch of paper work as well as our passports, diplomas, transcripts and extra photos. So I asked if they wanted our actual passports or if we could make copies because we needed at least one of our passports to exchange money. Kru Rin was sure that we'd need to give her our passports and send them in and who knows how long it would take to get them back. So we asked if we could go when we were both free to exchange money. No problem. The head of the math department said she'd take us so we hopped in her car, but when we got to the bank they told her that none of the banks in Tha Wang Pha exchange money. Well that's highly inconvenient. But then another lady told her that the bank in Pua (the town north of us) exchanged money. So we got in the car and 10 minutes later we were in Pua - its actually bigger than Tha Wang Pha and we decided we needed to come back sometime to check it out - where they exchanged our money. By the time we got back Rin was in a meeting so we decided to wait until the next day to give her our documents. We gave them to her today and as I walked away she said "Do you want your passports?" I replied,"Don't you need to send them?""Oh no! We just make copy!!" - Things like this happen every day here. We are still getting used to the Thai phrase "mai pen rai" which means "its ok. no worries."Which brings me to another mai pen rai situation...

Picture from the Muay Thai ring with the football field in the background. The entire school gathers at the football field at the start of each day for the morning assembly. They listen to the King's anthem and the national anthem as the flag is being raised.
 When we got back to our apartment today Kristin, who's apt is right next to ours, noticed that her water wasn't working. There had been a construction crew here putting in some new bathrooms so we assumed they shut the water off and forgot to turn it back on because no one's water was working. So we went down to check it out, but couldn't figure out how to turn it back on. That same construction crew was now working at the school, so Kristin and Caitlin went to attempt to explain the situation. They seemed to know that the water was off, but didn't tell them when it would be back on. So Caitlin called Rin and told her to which she replied "Yes. No water anywhere! We have some though if you want to take a bath." (which means a bucket and a sponge). So apparently all of Tha Wang Pha has no running water and no one's in a panic about it or freaking out. Another situation in which all we really can say is "mai pen rai."

Mama mia pizzeria

Mâi pét – my favorite/most useful Thai phrase. It means "not spicy"! Almost everything they eat here is spicy. Sometimes it’s a little bit (nít noi means little bit) spicy and sometimes its out of this world, burn your esophagus and bring you to tears spicy. I’ve never tried anything more than a little spicy and even that was too much a few times. We did decide to try a bunch of different Thai snacks yesterday. We had delicious rice cakes, muffins, peanut brittle, banana chips (tastes like potato chips, but without the salt), and these tiny cookie sandwiches with sticky jam in the middle. They were all pretty good, but I like the little cookies and the rice cakes the best.

Anyway, I’ve mentioned that lots of Thais drive motorbikes, which are a mix between a moped and a dirt bike style bike.  Some of the newer ones are actually mopeds or vespas, but they are more expensive.  All of them have extra long seats so you can fit 2 normal sized people on them, or 4 Thais, a baby, the dog and their groceries.  We were in the unfortunate circumstance of not having a motorbike for the last few days. Our coordinator, Kru Rin, brought hers over last week so we could practice riding it (it somehow ended up back at her house over the weekend. Inconvenient).

Ethan was the first to try and, like a lot of things he does, he picked it up right away (after coming pretty close to crashing into a ditch, but that’s neither here nor there). Since our apartment is so close to the school, Rin told us to take the bike to the futbol (soccer) field/track to practice with more room and on softer ground. She failed to mention that there would be a bunch of kids over there practicing for sport day – more on that later. So they all watched while we attempted to learn to ride the motorbike.  Rin taught Ethan how to change gears, so naturally when he felt comfortable he tried 4th gear out. Rin was dying the whole time saying “Tell E-tan slow down! He go too fast!” Anyway, after Ethan I tried. It was easier to balance than I thought and I figured Ethan would be driving me anyway so I let the other girls try after only circling the track twice. It took them a little longer to feel comfortable on it, but they got the gist.

Like I said somehow the motorbike was taken back to Rin’s house so we were unable to use it over the weekend. But we didn’t let that stop us from exploring. We decided we wanted to check out Nan city, which is about 30 miles south of Tha Wang Pha. Rin told us that that we could catch the bus across the street from the school or the blue truck. We still aren’t really sure what the truck is called, but if you’ve seen Hangover 2 it’s the thing they ride to the temple in with the monk. If you have no idea what I’m talking about it’s basically a small truck with the bed turned into two benches with a roof on it. The bus is supposed to come every hour, on the hour. We figured it would be late given Thais general disinterest in timeliness, but we got there on time just in case.

We waited until about 10:25 when the truck showed up. We decided to take that rather than the bus because who knows when it would show up! (Ethan- The truck filled up and I gave up my seat at first chance to a woman so I could ride standing on the back of the truck. I got what I wanted and scored some karma. That's big in Thailand!) It was a nice drive to Nan and we spent the day wandering around checking out the various temples and markets. We found the best smoothie shop ever (It’s actually called The Best Bakery) and decided we would return to Nan if only to visit The Best Bakery. We checked out one of the many temples in Nan called Wat Phumin. It was small, but very beautiful and had some pretty crazy old murals on the walls. I'm sure they told some epic story or something cool, but who knows. It's pretty amazing how ornate the temples here are and how much detail goes into every inch of it. The giant golden Buddha's are cool too. We wandered around for a while longer, passed by two more temples and after that decided we needed food. In our Lonely Planet book one of the places to eat served pizza and other random Italian food. Thus, we made it our mission to find the pizza! We walked to the location on the not-so-detailed map and it was nowhere to be found. We walked up and down the street it was supposed to be at least 3 times (I was drenched in sweat head to toe). (Ethan- At one point we came across a truck with a flat tire. One guy got out of his truck to help, but the truck didn't budge. Cue huge American, comparatively speaking. We got the truck out of the intersection and after 20 yards I got nervous as to how far he wanted the truck pushed. Keep in mind, it is NOT cold in Thailand. I asked the other guy, "How far?" and he replied, "further." Crap! We pushed it to the side of the road right after though and that was that. Karma +2 for the day.) Finally we stopped and asked some locals, who, after much pantomiming and broken Thai on our part, were able to tell us that it had moved and drew us a map of where it was. Yay!

After a very long, sweaty pilgrimage we found mecca! It looked like your average Thai restaurant, but they had sombereros on the walls (they had no Mexican food so this was confusing) and the menu consisted of pasta, pizza and traditional Thai food. Ethan and I got margherita pizza. It was good and definitely satisfied our pizza craving (for the time being). We weren't really sure where to catch the bus home, so we wandered back up the street we came into town on and hoped that the bus would pass by. We ended up at a bus stop, but the blue truck came first so we took that instead. 

After our eventful Saturday we were exhausted, but had to get food somehow on Sunday. We ended up walking into town, which is about a mile and half (normally this wouldn't be a big deal, but it's bloody hot here!). Anyway, we ate lunch there and got a box of frosted flakes (called Frosties here) for dinner. It was the first time we tried the milk here and it was ok. It tasted more like vanilla soy milk than actual milk, but whatever. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Tha Wang Pha

Sawatdee - means hello in Thai! The last couple of days we have been attempting to adjust to our new life in Tha Wang Pha (pronounced Tah Wahng Pah). We arrived here at about 4am on Thursday after a highly uncomfortable 10 hour van ride from Bangkok. We unloaded the van to find out that our accommodations were not yet ready for us. So we stood around for about 15 minutes waiting for someone to tell us what to do. After a while (about 10 minutes of not having any idea what anyone was saying) our coordinator Patarin (or Kru Rin...Kru means teacher) told us that they didn't want us to stay there because they had just painted and it smelled like paint. We were in no mood to move our stuff anywhere, so we told her we were fine with it and that we are used to that smell. After that debacle, we dropped our stuff and slept for a couple of hours.

I woke up abruptly to music playing over loud speakers. Very loud music in a language I did not understand. What the hell is going on?!? Ohhhh it's the school! Our apartment is located on the school grounds and every morning starting at 7am they play music and make announcements. We haven't yet figured out why, but the kids here love being at school. They are here by or before 7 and don't leave until like 5. This idea is foreign to us. We're used to kids scrambling to get out as fast as possible. We're used to getting out as fast as possible!! Anyway, Thursday we ate lunch with some of the teachers and Kru Rin took us on a school tour. Lunch is an interesting story. Thais like to eat every meal family style. So they cook or buy a bunch of different dishes so they have a smorgasbord of food to choose from. Instead of dishing themselves up a plate though, they just grab whatever they want with their hands and eat it - rarely using utensils. This is not something we were familiar with and we struggled to feel comfortable just grabbing at food that people we didn't know were about to eat (and also having other people's hands in what we were eating. It was strange. They also are obsessed with making us try everything. "Skye! You try...not spicy!!!" or "Skye! You try little bit! Little bit spicy!" It's overwhelming and most of the food they eat is spicy. They also think that Ethan is a bottomless pit and shove food in his face to finish it. They say "E-tan! Kill it! Finish!" It's hilarious.

After lunch and our tour we went back to our apartment to find them putting in furniture. Yay! We got a desk, a wardrobe, a vanity, a bed and an old refrigerator. The bed is hard unfortunately. It actually might be worse than the 1" air mattresses we sleep on while biking. Yea...definitely worse. Anyway, it has a bunch of storage so it's convenient. The wardrobe is not made for two people, but we only had like 15 hangers anyway. We took a shelf from an unused apartment to put the rest of our stuff in. We are living very minimally. The good thing about our apartment is it was just cleaned and painted so there really aren't many bugs.

We did have a gecko find its way in through the bathroom the other day while we were watching a movie. Now geckos are not scary, but when they're in your living quarters it just makes you uncomfortable. They can hide anywhere and they're just wiggly and creepy. Soooo naturally I kinda freaked out and made Ethan attempt to shoo it out with me. We used our broom to nudge him, but he just ran up the wall and behind the wardrobe and on the ceiling and made a couple suicide attempts by jumping form the wall to the floor (he might have even jumped into our clothes on the shelf, but we can't be sure). I giggled and shrieked the entire time. It sounded like we were trying to kill a nasty bug or spider. Nope just a harmless little gecko. Anyway, Ethan gave up and somehow I got him to go in the bathroom. I quickly shut the door and put towels under it. My hope was that he would go back out the holes in the wall (the "ventilation") in the bathroom. Still haven't looked in the bathroom.

So that brings me to the bathroom situation. Most people use squat toilets here in the boonies. They are essentially a hole with a porcelain surrounding on which you put your feet. When you're done you use a bucket (or if you're lucky a bowl and a bucket) to "flush" the toilet by pouring water down the hole. Oh! And toilet paper is BYOTP (bring your own TP). Both the hotels we stayed at had normal toilets - they get a lot of foreigners who aren't used to squatting - so we hadn't had to deal with this at all in Bangkok. My first experience was at a rest area on the trip to Tha Wang Pha. It was terrible...mostly because I didn't have any TP. So when we got here we knew we could get stuck with squat toilets. Well not only did we get stuck with one (the girls we are with both have regular toilets) but it doesn't work! There is also no sink or shower in our bathroom. So we have been using the empty apartment's squat toilet and shower.

Funny but kinda gross squat toilet story: I haven't really been having many good poops since we got here. So I was hoping this would continue until they got us a real toilet. But as luck would have it, my tummy started rumbling yesterday. Within minutes I knew I would have to either really destroy one of the girls bathrooms or ..... use the squat upstairs. I knew it was going to be really bad so I headed upstairs. I looked at the squat for a minute then decided there was no turning back...I'd gone too far. I got into position on the stand and realized I was way to high up. There was no way I was going to do this without it splashing (ohhhh that's digusting!) everywhere. But it was well on its way out. I panicked! Oh god! I had to sit down! Argggghhhhhh nooooooo! It was so weird. Thankfully it was over faster than I thought. But I still had to flush. It was almost as unpleasant as sitting there. I used almost a whole bucket of water to flush. It was arguably one of the most unsatisfying experiences I have ever had. I went back downstairs and just sat there. I think I was in shock. I really hope they get our toilet soon.

So that's the squatter. As you can see, the shower is also quite sketchy. The shower/toilet/sink room is pretty common here and once you get used to showering where you poop and brush your teeth it's not too bad. You get water everywhere, but it dries pretty fast. (The best thing about it is it's really easy to clean your bathroom because it's just one big shower that you can spray water everywhere. -E) And honestly it's so damn hot here and you're always so sweaty that showering is like the best thing ever regardless of how you have to do it. We haven't had any bug issues in the bathroom...and hope to keep it that way. Our living situation is obviously a work in progress, but if we can live with the bathroom for a while I think we'll be OK.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Orientation - Hi! It's a another very hot day here in Thailand! For those of you who want to know all about orientation continue reading, if you don't then well you'll just have to wait for the next post.

Our first day of orientation was interesting. We had one big group meeting and then split off into three different groups. Group A was for primary teachers and groups B and C were for secondary teachers. Ethan and I were in group B. We sat through two hours of TEFL training (aka teaching english training) and two hours of basic Thai language lesson. The TEFL training was interesting, but since both Ethan and I were told we'd be teaching subjects it was hard to really see how it much it would benefit us. They gave us basic lessons to use with students who don't know much english and told us where to start. It was very general and having gone through teacher education already most of it was common knowledge to us. We did learn some very useful Thai words though that we'll most likely need to use.

The Thai language class was overwhelming even though we didn't learn very much Thai. Thai is a tonal language, meaning every word or phrase comes with different tones. There are 5 tones in Thai and there are some words that are spelled the exact same, but when used with different tones mean completely different things. The Thai alphabet is still beyond my understanding. Way beyond. There are 44 consonants and 32 vowels I think. Why? I don't know. This phrase "I don't know" was the answer to a lot of our questions about the Thai language. Our teacher, Fiat - like the car-, is Thai, but speaks english very well. He also speaks Spanish and a few other languages - he put us all to shame. It was embarrassing. Anyway, we would ask him why Thais spell things certain ways or use certain phrases and he would just say "I don't know, just the way it is!". He's a character and we all grew to really like him. Anyway, after that first lesson we just felt brain dead. It was an information overload to the max extreme. Fiat also taught us a lot about the Thai culture, which was very interesting.

The last thing we did that day was a Q & A with some former teachers. It was fun to hear about their experiences. That night we decided to test the local fair again and headed out to a different restaurant nearby. We ended up getting sweet and sour stir fried chicken, which was not exactly what we expected, but it was good. We actually ended up eating with two girls from the program, Alexis and Shannon. We talked about where we were teaching and all that jazz. They're pretty cool and we ended up hanging out with them more and more as the week went on.

With the first day under our belts we were feeling overwhelmed, but good about being in Thailand. Ethan was still kind of sick and ended up throwing up a few times that night. :[ But we heard it just takes time to get used to the food here so we didn't worry too much. The next day was pretty much the same as the first except we had a traditional Thai welcome ceremony at the end. It was pretty neat. (We each received a bracelet of white string in the welcome ceremony. There were 5 or so Thai's from our staff that would give us some words of wisdom while tying the string. I went to Fiat and he told me, "Thailand's future is our children. They are in your hands. And I trust them there." No pressure, right? -E)

The third day we had to get up at the ass crack of dawn to go to the Grand Palace. We had to leave at 7am so I think we were up by 6. The Grand Palace is where the King usually resides. It also houses the Temple of the Emrald Buddha and some other temples as well as museums. Sounds like so much fun right? Kinda. The thing about the palace is that you have to wear a skirt that covers your knees and a shirt that covers your shoulders, but is not sheer. Guys had to wear long pants. No flip flops! Ok this doesn't sound that bad. It was terrible. I have never been so uncomfortably hot in my whole life. Our wedding day was hot and I sweat a lot that day, but this was on another level. Sweat was pouring down my arms and legs and face at a continuously disgusting pace. The palace was incredible though. The amount of detail they put into some of the buildings and statues was mesmerizing. The Emerald Buddha, which is actually made of jade, was much smaller than I envisioned, but beautiful nonetheless. The whole palace was huge and we really only saw a small portion - maybe because our group spent most of our time in an air conditioned museum, but that's beside the point - but what we did see was crazy awesome.

That night we were treated to dinner and a show. It was really cool. We had a buffet dinner first, that included french fries - they weren't the best, but they tasted so good, and then we could say hello to the elephants, watch some performers do small shows or check out the little "village" that was set up to represent the different regions of Thailand. We said hello to the elephants. They were huge and hairy! I never knew elephants had hair. It feels like a very course bristled brush...who knew?! Anyway we walked through the little village and watched a lady weave a scarf. The show started shortly after that. It was like cirque du soleil, but more theatrical. We really enjoyed it, even though we were fighting off an intense tiredness. A few people fell asleep, but I was all eyes and ears. I loved it! It was about Thailand's history and the different festivals they have. There were lots of crazy costumes and they even had a "river" on stage. I wish I could have taken pictures, but it was strictly forbidden. (My favorite section was "Fiery Hell." It was real trippy. -E)

The following day we were leaving the hotel for Kanchanaburi. We had to pack all our stuff and store it at the hotel and bring a few days worth of clothes for the trip. It was harder than it sounded. Well Ethan didn't have a hard time, but it took me forever. Anyway, we had some classes that day, but as soon as the last one let out we boarded the bus for Kanchanaburi. It took three hours to get there and we stopped for dinner so we didn't get there until after dark. Dinner was interesting. It was mostly seafood so I really only ate rice, but they had what they call a shrimp volcano where they basically have some shrimp on a platter, put a tiny fake volcano on top and light it on fire. It was entertaining. Anywho, the hotel in Kanchanaburi was really cool. It was all open, which meant there were geckos everywhere - yes, geckos like the ones in the movie Madagascar - and cockroaches (we never saw one), but it had two huge pools and the rooms each had a private balcony. It was also located right on the famous Kwai river. (never heard of it?? Wha?? Shame. Google it)

In the morning we had to give lesson plan presentation and then we had lunch and left for the Taweechai Elephant camp! As soon as we pulled up there were three baby elephants out and everyone went straight to them. They were impossibly cute and charming too! The elephant camp involved an elephant ride and a quick bamboo raft trip. The raft trip was interesting and a lot of people took a dip in the river. We chose not to on account of the fact that Ethan's sister Lindsay got an infection from the water. We knew we were being over cautious, but it was also brown and just gross looking. Also, the elephants poop in the water. Ummmm yikes that's nasty. The elephant ride was awesome. Short, but awesome. They let you sit on the elephants neck too - I was a piss poor elephant driver...the guy kept yelling at our elephant. I felt bad. Anyway, after the ride they showed us all the tricks the baby elephants can do. It was so cute and hilarious. Ethan got a traditional Thai massage from the smallest one. It basically hit him with it's trunk a few times and then very gently stepped on him a few times. It was incredibly amusing. We were very sad to leave the elephants, but very excited to visit the bridge over the Kwai river.

The bridge was built by POW and slaves basically during WWII by the Japanese as part of the Death Railway (named so because of the many lives that were lost in building it). The bridge was bombed and rebuilt twice and the third time it was bombed they decided not to rebuild it. The bridge that is there now was built later I think. Anyway, it was pretty cool, but a huge tourist trap. We didn't really mind though because there was a huge market that was fun to look through even though we didn't buy anything. (There was a baby leopard just chilling at one of the stalls. Normal things. -E) After the bridge we were going somewhere for dinner, but hadn't been told where.

The bus pulled up to a restaurant on the river. It looked like your average riverside restaurant, but we were to soon find out it was not at all average. We found our tables and sat eagerly awaiting food. Someone mentioned that the restaurant was floating. We were in fact on a giant barge - that was easy to see. But then the deck connected to a neighboring restaurant started to move and sure enough it was being tugged by a motorboat out into the river. What?! Someone asked if ours was going to move and I was like "no way man this one is huge! that little bitty boat cannot pull this huge thing!" I was mistaken. As soon as we finished dinner we were being tugged out into the river by a litte motor boat. These barges were the size of larger mobile homes - not even joking or exaggerating - and ours was two of them side by side. We all sat out front as we went down the river and when it got dark the barge turned into a rave. Giant speakers blasted insanely loud music and the deck was turned into a dance floor complete with spinning colored lights and strobes. It was the craziest thing. If I hadn't been drenched in sweat from just sitting there I would have joined the dance party (it was hard to resist the urge trust me, but I was just not prepared to deal with the amount of sweat that would pour from every inch of my body). We had a great time watching everyone dance and be silly though.

After the floating dinner/techno rave dance extravaganza we all hit up the hotels jankity (is this a word? of course not silly! But it describes the dilapidated conditions of many things in Thailand. Forewarning! I will continue to use this word!) karaoke room. Since I didn't partake in the dance fun I decided karaoke would be my thing and bonus! it was air conditioned! So pretty much all night I belted out pretty much every song they played that I knew and did a duet to "I wanna dance with somebody" with my new friend Jordan who went to Michigan. It was awesome. People kept handing me the mic when no one wanted to sing. And of course I took it. My other new friends Alexis and Shannon also helped me sing a few songs (such as "I want it that way" and "Total eclipse of the heart"). Eventually it turned into whoever happened to be in the room was singing the songs too - we had a great time watching the boys sing "uptown girl" and "my heart will go on". It was a great last night with the group.

The next day we slept through breakfast (I made it to breakfast just in time for two eggs. -E) , checked out, ate lunch and then headed back to Bangkok to meet our coordinators and head out to our schools.

Greetings from Thailand - The Land of Smiles

Pre-Orientation - Hello everyone! We've been in Thailand for 9 days now and we arrived in our town very early Thursday morning. So it's been a blast, but our new home is going to take some getting used to. Before I go into that I'll talk about orientation and stuff.

We arrived in Bangkok on the 9th very late at night. Our flight from Atlanta to Tokyo was 15 hours. We barely made it on the flight and it was late, so getting through security in Tokyo was stressful to say the least. But we made it! From Tokyo to Bangkok was 6 hours and we slept most of the time. When we got to Bangkok airport (BKK) the place was air conditioned, but we could still feel the intense heat that was waiting for us outside. We had been warned about the taxi drivers at the airport charging way too much to take us where we were going, but we were too tired and way too hot to try and argue with the guy so we overpaid, but we got to our hotel after a very intense taxi ride. Thais drive on the left side of the road, which is overwhelming already, but they also pay no mind to speed limits or the lane markers. Driving here pretty much makes no sense at all unless you live here. Anyway, I was slightly terrified, but we made it and I didn't vomit. Hooray!

We checked in to our hotel and were relieved that it was air conditioned. We were soaked in sweat just carrying our stuff to the door and into the elevator. The heat here is mostly humid heat - like 100% humidity. It's disgusting. It's comparable to walking into a wall of sticky air...think Michigan humid times 10. Ok I think you probably got the idea. Anyway, we pretty much dropped our stuff and went to straight to bed.

We spent most of the next day sleeping, but did take time get breakfast at the hotel and we wondered around the short street that the hotel was off of. It was very hot and we had no idea what we were doing. We went to 7-11 - there were two within 100 yards of each other - and also stopped at a coffee place to get on the internet. Both of these places were air conditioned. Hooray! Like I said we slept off our jet lag most of the day so after the coffee shop we passed out for a couple of hours, got up for dinner and then went back to bed. We decided we'd try some local fair for dinner, which was good, but we both regretted it somewhat when we found ourselves on the toilet the rest of the night. Ew.

We woke up very early the next day (the 11th) got breakfast and then checked in to orientation. This involved a 3 minute process where we hand over our passports and they hand us all of our information. We didn't have anything else to do that day so we decided we'd go to downtown Bangkok. Bangkok has these super-mega malls that we had heard so much about and really wanted to see. I also needed a hair dryer and we needed a converter plug for our computers. We took a taxi to the SkyTrain station and took a very squished ride on that to downtown. The downtown area was very overwhelming, but we got off the train right where 3 or 4 of these mega-malls were located. The first mall was 6 floors and had an aquarium in the basement floor. I really wanted to go obviously, but Ethan wasn't feeling well and thought our money would be better spent elsewhere. You win Ethan. Anyway, this mall was insane. It was soooooo big. I wish I had taken a picture, but I was too shocked by the intensity. The food court alone was the size of the Meridian Mall. Not even joking! ... ok that's an exaggeration, but whatever it was huge. This particular mall wasn't quite what we were looking for though. It was dedicated to really upscale stores that are wayyyy over our price range. So we decided to go to the MBK mall.

The MBK mall is nuts. I think there were 5 floors. Each floor was like a regular mall but in the "median", for lack of a better term, there were thousands of privately owned shops that you can barter at. This mall literally had anything and everything you could think of. There was a whole floor dedicated to electronics and every shop sold the same thing. Crazy. Just crazy. We bought a converter from a random shop and then went to a department store - that was also 5 floors, each floor was a different department - called Tokyu for a hair dryer. We bought a hair dryer for like $20, which was a bit more than I was expecting to pay for a travel size hair dryer. We chalked it up to the fact that we're in Bangkok and left it at that. The hair dryer was necessary.

After we left the mall we decided to hit up the "central park" of Bangkok. It was pretty and nice to get away from the smelly city streets. It did start to rain while we were there though, which wasn't cool. We also saw some iguanas - or at least that's what we think they were - that were huge. They were everywhere... it was strange. After the park we hopped back on the train and headed back to the hotel. We passed out til after dinner when we got back and woke up in the dark. We had missed dinner, but were really hungry so we decided to binge on snack food. In hind sight it was a poor choice, but we did learn a lot about the snacks here. Snickers aren't satisfying because the chocolate tastes wonky and oreos taste fairly similar to American ones. Also, their idea of barbecue chips is not the same as ours. They weren't bad, but I'm pretty sure they weren't BBQ.

Our first days in Thailand were behind us and we were very excited for orientation to start! :]

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Vacation Part 2: Sea World, Cabrillo Monument and San Diego Zoo

Skye here! I've finally decided to finish up the blogs from our trip! Our next adventure will be underway very soon (Oct 3rd) so I need to get this done before that starts!

We wanted to wake up early to get to Sea World, but neither of us set an alarm so that didn't exactly happen. But we got up with enough time to get ready and get there pretty soon after it opened. We headed straight for the rides and shows to make sure we wouldn't have to wait in ridiculous lines. The first thing we did was ride the only roller coaster in Sea World. It's a new coaster called Manta that incorporates a manta ray exhibit within the line and after the ride. They obviously had not worked out the logistics of the line because it was the most confusing thing ever. You had to put your things in a locker first (there weren't that many and it was located at the ride exit) then get back in line. So instead of having two lines (one for ppl with stuff and one for ppl w/o stuff) they had one big line that people would wait until they got to the lockers, then they would have to wait in the locker line. So people would send one person to the lockers with everyone's stuff, then that one person would catch back up to the people in line. It was so annoying because no one knew what was going on and people kept weaving their way through the line every 5 seconds.

Anyway, enough ranting about Sea World's inability to seek a professional to do their line construction/organization. The Manta coaster was comparable to Cedar Point's Corkscrew except it was a bit longer (also comparable to The Wizarding World's dueling dragons, but smaller). It was fun and thrilling for the 1 minute 30 second ride. After you exit through the locker area you can go to the manta ray touch pool, which was arguably the coolest part of the whole thing. The rays were so used to people giving them food (you could buy it for $7.00) that they would pop their head out of the water and wait occasionally. It seemed like they liked to be pet too because most of them spent their time really close to the wall. We stayed and pet the rays for a while. Then it was off to see Shamu. We had both been to Sea World, so we kind of knew what to expect (though Ethan said he didn't remember the Shamu show). I couldn't remember getting that wet in the show, so we decided we'd take our chances in the "splash zone." The show was pretty cool and at one point one of the whales splashed this group of people at least 5 times with its tail fin causing them to be soaked completely. It was pretty funny until the whale came to our side. It soaked us with one splash. The little kids loved it...and Ethan thought it was funny. I was just happy that I had the sense to protect my hair at least with the park map. If I hadn't my hair would have been a giant frizzy mess the rest of the day.

After Shamu we saw the sea lion show, which was a spoof on SNL. It was pretty funny, but was geared toward little kids. Then we went and saw the dolphin show. It was the coolest show I've ever seen. It was like Cirque du Soleil, but with live dolphins, tropical birds and whales. The story was super cheasy, but the acrobats and animals were awesome. We loved it! After the show we needed to see the rest of the exhibits. We saw the sharks, penguins, the polar bear, a gigantic walrus, some beluga whales (my favorties), some other creepy critters of the deep and some non-sea creatures. Somehow I convinced Ethan to buy a souvenir cup and two stuffed animals (a shamu and a polar bear).  All my hard work biking paid off I suppose!

After Sea World we took the bus and the train back to the hotel. We watched the sunset at the pier where the USS Midway is docked (where MSU played that basketball game). After that we went out for dinner and grabbed dessert from CVS (I think it was a bunch of candy)! It was an awesome, well deserved vacation day! :]

The next day we headed out early again to go see the Cabrillo National Monument. It was one of Ethan's grandpa's (John's dad) favorite places to visit in San Diego so we just had to check it out. We had to take a couple different buses to get there, which resulted in a lot of waiting around, but we made it eventually. The monument is up on a hill that overlooks the city to the east and the ocean to the west. It was an incredible view. You could also see the huge naval air base that sits between the city and the ocean. We watched a few really interesting planes/aircrafts take-off and land there. The monument includes a museum and a self-guided tour of the light house that sits at the highest point. It was pretty although after the light house I was ready to head to the zoo, which was our next destination. Ethan decided to take himself on a short hike down toward the ocean, while I opted to chill on a bench by the museum. When he got back we took a few pictures by the monument to Cabrillo and got back on the bus.

From the monument we had to go back into town to catch the bus to the zoo. We decided we didn't want to spend an arm and a leg on food at the zoo, like we had at Sea World, so we found a place near the bus station for lunch. The place was called Hodad's - which is what you call a person who pretends they know how to surf - and it was pretty interesting and the food was good. After that we got back on the bus headed for the zoo.

The zoo was awesome! Perhaps the only downside was that the wild animal park (where they have animals out in the open and you take a "safari" through it) was 30 miles away. I'm certain that if we ever go back there we'll make it out, but we were not about to pay another fee and ride the bus for that long. Like I said the zoo was pretty cool though. It was huge for one thing and it was set up really nicely. There were tons of trees and plants that made it look like you were really in the region those animals lived in and it made it really neat to walk through. The roads and paths were a little confusing, but we figured them out. Our favorite animals were probably the pandas, giraffes and gorillas. A lot of the animals were sleeping as it was late afternoon by the time we got there, but some of them must have just entered their mating season because we witness some highly entertaining behavior. Probably the best one was the camel and this small antelope type thing. The camel was laying down and this little antelope kept getting frisky with the camel's head. We had to walk away because I was laughing so hard. Yes. I'm still that immature.

Anyway, it started getting dark so we took the gondola ride toward the front of the park. But, by the time we got to the reptiles it was completely dark so we didn't get to see many of them. Fine by me...they're gross anyway. We did see some giant galapagos turtles though, but they were sleeping so they were boring. After that we went in the gift shops, obviously, and I picked out a panda bear that Ethan reluctantly bought me.

We headed back to the hotel, got some pizza and desert and ate in the room. It was another wonderful vacation day in sunny SD!