Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Yee sib haa: Thaigiving and my birthday

The end of last week was pretty great.
almost all the food we had for 1st Thaigiving
Thursday we went up to Pua to have Thanksgiving, or Thaigiving as some of us called it, at Colin's. We stopped at the grocery store and got cheese bread and Choco pies before heading to Colin's house. It was quite the dilemma deciding what to bring because Thawangpha and Pua don't exactly have many western foods around. We had to get creative. Caitlin and Kristin made green beans and this pumpkin dish that was really good. It was chunks of pumpkin stir fried with oil and egg. We were impressed. Colin brought apples and peanut butter, as well as a head of sticky rice. The peanut butter was amazing, but apparently it's quite expensive so I don't think we'll be getting any anytime soon. Tristan and Kelly brought pineapple, chicken and some other Thai dishes. Altogether, it ended up being a really great meal and we were all stuffed when we left. I also ate three Choco pies, so that might have had something to do with my fullness.

Friday after school, the Pua gang met us at our place and we headed out to Nan for the big Thaigiving feast. We came unprepared to this meal as well so we had to go to the grocery store again. We decided to get a whole cooked chicken - smaller than the rotisserie chickens from Meijer - and dinner rolls. We really weren't sure what to expect other than there were going to be about 20ish people there and we knew what a few people were bringing. I have to say that the meal exceeded what little expectations I had. It was awesome! Daylan made macaroni and cheese that was incredible! There was also mashed potatoes (and gravy of course FROM KFC), fried potatoes, salad, several varieties of chicken, pumpkin pie, cookies and no bake cookies. Everyone who cooked did a great job and everyone who brought stuff made excellent choices. Aside from the food, we also had a really great time chatting with friends and sharing more teaching stories. There are quite a few Thai holidays coming up so we got a chance to hear what other people are doing or where they are going. It was really fun and we really feel that there is a sense of community among the group... we are also really glad to be a part of it. We really like Thailand and Thai people, but knowing that you have friends who can understand you and would help you out if you needed is pretty awesome. Anyway, most everyone decided to go out to the bar after dinner and we went for a bit, but decided to head in early. Ethan wanted to go to the hilltop temple to watch the sun rise at 6:30 in the morning.
Ethan with his Thaigiving meal

sunrise at temple
Saturday morning was rough. I was rudely awakened by the roosters in the neighborhood at 5:15 and became extremely irritated very quickly. Thursday night I had not slept very well and I was hoping to get a good rest Friday night. Well that didn't happen and then getting woken up by the loudest rooster on the planet was the last straw. I lost it. The tears started and would not stop. Ethan wasn't sure what to do because he really wanted to watch the sunrise at this temple. I ended up going, but I cried the whole way and most of the time we were there. We ended up having a good talk at the temple once I gathered myself. I determined that I was upset for several reasons. 1) I was exhausted. 2) I was homesick. 3) I was frustrated with my teaching situation 4) I was (still am) severely constipated. Half of these things, we determined, we could do something about. I would get a good night's sleep that night and I could figure out the constipation thing somehow. Unfortunately, the other two things are big things and obviously I can't go home. The teaching thing still has us stumped, but we think we have a plan. My frustration comes from the fact that they have me teaching math and I hate math. Plus I am downright terrible at math. I am often learning how to do the problems I am supposed to be teaching the kids right before class. Also, sometimes I am asked to give examples or explain something in the middle of class that I don't know how to do or wasn't warned about. It's embarrassing. So my plan is to try harder to be upfront with the teachers about what I do/do not understand and make sure I know what we are teaching and what is to be expected of me. Ethan knows first hand that this is much easier said than done given the language barrier. So if this plan doesn't work out, we'll have to consult with Kru Rin. She has a much better grasp of the English language and might be able to translate my issues to the teachers better than me. Anyway, the point is that the breakdown was a big one, but we worked through most of the issues and I am feeling much better. :]

Ethan at the top! 

Saturday afternoon we went back to the caves, but this time with Tristan, Kelly and Colin. Tristan and Kelly had never been and we also wanted to hike up to the view point that we were too tired to check out last time. The hike was kinda long and really hot and Ethan had to take an emergency poop under a tree. He had to use a leaf....it was hilarious and traumatizing all at once. Fairly close to the top there was a little pagoda that we decided to eat lunch under. The boys decided to make the rest of the trek to the top, while the girls hung back. It was way to damn hot and they weren't sure if there was really a path up to the top. The boys figured it out though and were back after a while. The way down proved to be almost as tough as the way up since there were so many leaves on the ground. I kept slipping on the leaves when the ground was slightly slanted. It was a little nerve racking, but we made it. Tristan and Kelly wanted to check out the caves so Colin, Caitlin and Kristin were there guides, while I took it slow and Ethan did some exploring. I was exhausted and had already seen the caves so I really couldn't be bothered to do all that hiking again. Ethan explored a little and made a video of himself climbing through one of the caves. When we got back to Thawangpha we grabbed some market food and ate it down by the river. Colin showed us how to order sticky rice from the vendors. The teachers always have it at lunch, but we never see it at the market. Turns out the keep it in giant thermos containers behind their counters. Aha!! We're really excited about it because sticky rice is filling and cheap. Woohoo!

my birthday "cake"
Saturday night we both passed out at 10 and didn't wake up until 8. It was glorious! Ethan got breakfast Sunday morning and we took our time getting ready to celebrate my birthday at one of the waterfalls near where we live. We grabbed some market food and met the Pua gang along the way. This waterfall, called Tad Luang, was much cooler than the one we visited with the vice director and his family. It was clean and there were actual falls. There were also big rocks that you could chill on. At first I was nervous to go in the water. I don't really know why, but I was. Ethan went right in with the other guys and pretty soon they were sliding down the big waterfall. It look terrifying and slightly painful, so I held off on that for a while. Below the big falls there was another set of rocks and a pool that the guys figured out you could slide into. It looked much less intimidating than the big one, so after some coercing from Ethan I finally did it. It was fun, except the current was pretty strong one side of the pool so I had some trouble getting out. Fortunately, Ethan was there to help :]

Ethan on the "big slide" 
After we ate lunch, Ethan surprised me with a box of 4 slices of cake and a cupcake with candles. He stored the cake in the under seat storage on the motorbike and snuck away to get it while I was distracted. It was really cute and the cake was delicious. Tristan, Kelly and Colin brought me a birthday "bread krathong." It resembles the krathongs the Thais float down the river for Loy Krathong. We're still not sure if you're supposed to eat it, but it tasted OK so I ate some. After I had mastered the "intermediate" waterfall slide I was feeling confident so I worked up the courage to do the big one. It was fun, but it hurt my butt and I leaned over pretty far so I got a nose full of water when I splashed down. I wasn't sure I could do it again. After a trek up to the higher falls, a near death incident involving slipping on a rock and almost sliding into a very dangerous looking crevice, and an attempt to float a pretty large log down the river, I got up the courage to do the big waterfall slide again. And again, really cool, but painful. This time I leaned over even farther so my chest slammed into the water - Ladies....my right one took the full force...it's still sore.

so much fun. so much pain. 

A little while later this guy came up and starting talking in Thai to us. We all just stared at him and tried to understand what he was saying. After a whole minute of watching him talk and mime things to us, we just decided it was time to go. We still don't know if that's what he wanted, but he left shortly after us (we know because he passed us on the road), so we think we're right. We got some dinner at a place on the way back, then went our separate ways. It was an awesome day and I have to say that birthdays Thai style are pretty cool. However, nothing compares to being with my family and I really missed all of them. I think it will be a while before we spend any more holidays in foreign countries. :] Oh and "yee sib haa" means 25 in Thai.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ask and you shall receive...eventually

Mid-week Update

So in a previous post I talked about our plan to ask the principal if we could go to Loy Krathong. Well, finally after numerous attempts to speak with this seemingly elusive man we found him. Kru Rin and I went to his office yesterday and by some huge stroke of luck he was there. And by another stroke of luck, he said yes to our proposition. I thanked him repeatedly as we left and grinned ear to ear. :]

On top of that, the electrician FINALLY came to our apartment. We got a wall fan, a new shower and new lights. I never thought I would be this excited about a shower (those of you who know me even in the slightest bit know how much I detest showering), but when I'm hot and sticky all day long showering is awesome. And having a brand new one (that actually gets hot) and not having to go upstairs to the dirty, gecko infested one is even better. We still don't have a sink, but that was the least of our worries. We need screens over the doors and over the vents in the bathroom still, but the amount of bugs/geckos is still slim to none....so far.

In other (good) news, we thought we were going to have to attend a mandatory conference this weekend, but apparently it got moved or changed to an unspecified date. Hooray! We're trying to plan something special this weekend being that it is my birthday, but so far we aren't sure what were doing. We were invited to a Thanksgiving feast with our friends in Nan on Friday, so we'll probably go to that instead of trying to make one ourselves.

So far it's been a great week full of great news. We are hoping that it continues that way. We also hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving!! :]]]

English Camp & Pha Tup Caves

Saturday morning we woke up at 7 and prepared for English Camp. We had no idea what to expect other than the very limited agenda we'd been given and the lessons they told us we needed to teach. Ethan and I would be teaching about the nations of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations)  as well as American holidays, while Kristin and Caitlin were to teach the "greeting" and "thanks" traditions of the ASEAN nations as well as American holidays.

Napping before camp 
Some of the staff came to get us around 7:45 and we got to the Nan Valley Resort around 8:30. They took us to our rooms and told us they'd be back at 9 to get us. We tried to take a nap, but it didn't quite work. They came back and got us and led us to where all the kids were. There were about 100 kids of varying ages and about 15 staff workers. They were all assembled in the banquet room and the head of the camp was talking to them in Thai, while we received our camp shirts (none of which were in the sizes we asked for). Also, while they were talking the staff informed us that we wouldn't have a projector for our presentation. This wouldn't have been a problem, but our presentation was a powerpoint. They had a white board, but neither of us brought our computers so we couldn't even see our information to write it on the board. Luckily Kristin brought hers and let us borrow it.

Teaching in the room with a/c
So the day was split up into 4 "rotations" or class periods with about 25 kids in each rotation. They tried to have both of our presentations in the banquet room, but then realized that we were yelling over each other so they moved Ethan and I outside. It was incredibly warm, but there was a breeze and I didn't have to yell. The first rotation was not as smooth as we would have liked but the second was better. After a wonderful lunch, they moved us to an air conditioned room, which felt like heaven. The next two rotations went pretty well even though one of the students corrected our information (slightly embarrassing) and I had to take an emergency poop break.

ASEAN Show / Costume Contest
After our last rotation we got a very long break, while the other teachers helped the students with a show they were putting on later. We really didn't know what the show was all about or what to expect. After a lengthy nap, we ate dinner then headed to the room for the show. It was awesome! They split the kids into 10 groups, each one representing a different ASEAN nation. Then two kids from each group dawned the traditional dress attire for each nation (made by the kids from paper). Ethan and I were asked to host the show, which turned out to be a fashion show of sorts. Each nation was judged based on their confidence, their costumes, their speech and their ability to say each nations greeting correctly. So the four of us and some other teachers were the judges and in the end Indonesia took home first prize. It was really fun watching the kids parade around in their costumes and cheer for each other.

Everyone wanted a pic with the tall goon
After the show we played some games and taught them the Macarena. It was pretty hilarious without the music. Then they showed a slideshow of pictures from earlier that day. The kids would randomly scream and cheer at different pictures. I think they were cheering for the cute boys, but who knows. After the slideshow it was time for bed, but some of the teachers were hanging out so Ethan and I decided to join. It ended up being really fun and they asked us a bunch of questions about English and the US, which is always entertaining. They had a seemingly endless amount of snacks too, which was awesome except they were all pretty salty so I felt like a blimp the next day. (Ethan- They also had a seemingly endless supply of adult beverages. Every Thai seems to know the trick on how to open a bottle with another unopened bottle. The vice director of the school tried teaching me. The first two bottles didn't go well and he had to take over, but on my third attempt and the final bottle of the evening... SUCCESS!)

Christmas group with our snowflakes
Sunday morning came way too early because we'd stayed up pretty late. But it was a short day. We only had to be with one group to teach them about Christmas. So we showed them some pictures of Christmas trees, Santa and Jesus and then taught them to sing Jingle bells. We also taught them how to make huge snowflakes and made three or four to present to the whole group. When everyone was done the whole group got back together for presentations. We were supposed to make the kids present in English, but making the snowflakes was complicated enough so I did the talking while they demonstrated. Then we sang jingle bells for everyone. It was cute. We had lunch once everyone had presented and then headed out to the caves.

Going into a cave. It was a tight squeeze!
Ethan and I had been to the Pha Tup caves the weekend before, but didn't have the proper attire for such a venture. So Kristin and Caitlin came this time and we wore proper clothes and shoes. It was really close to the resort that camp was at, so we had the teachers drop us their rather than go all the way back to Thawangpha. We explored as many of the caves we could find, as there was no accurate map of the park. We basically just hiked until we saw a sign or an arrow. Some of the caves were small, while others were huge. They were not at all what I was expecting and I actually really enjoyed it - even though there were bats and disturbingly large spider webs everywhere. One of the caves even had some Buddha statues in it. We hiked pretty far into the park when we came to a square lake with a tree on an island. It was very strange and not very pretty. We kept going past it to another cave and once we made it to a point where we really didn't know where to go and didn't want to get lost we turned around. On the way back we checked out a pretty large cave that we thought we could climb out of and get a good view from the top of the hill it was on, but Ethan climbed up to no view. We decided it wasn't worth it so we headed out. The cave did have an interesting dragon "sculpture" in it though. The caves were pretty cool and as far as I know they're the only real caves I've ever been in. I really disliked the bats, but they didn't bother us so I think my chances of visiting caves again are pretty good. :]

Ethan climbed to the top! 
Stay tuned for an update from this week, Thanksgiving and MY BIRTHDAY!!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Loy Krathong??

Happy (almost) Thanksgiving!! It is so weird being in a country where no one cares about getting together on the fourth Thursday of November and eating a bunch of food. We're a little sad about it, for sure, because we will miss spending all that quality time with our families and eating all that D.E.licious food. Alas, it's the price we pay for going on this crazy adventure! :] We're also planning on having a Thanksgiving "feast" (we haven't quite figured out what it's going to include) on Thursday, which should prove to be interesting. So far we've decided to buy a whole chicken, sweet potatoes and pumpkin. That's as far as we got. Hopefully we can come up with some other things, but we probably won't eat too much since we do have to work Friday and we don't have the luxury of a day to sleep off our turkey "hangovers."

So this week went by quickly somehow. Maybe we are finally getting used to being here and our daily grind. Who knows? Regardless of how it happened it did. Even though it went by fast there are definitely some notable stories.

Skye and I helped make som tum (papaya salad)
Monday went by without much happening, but Tuesday was Caitlin's 22nd birthday! She said she felt old, which made us feel really old. We tried to plan a surprise birthday song in one of her classes, but it didn't work out. But we did eat lunch with the English department who bought her a cake and we got to sing then. The cake was delicious and we ate wayyyyyy too much of it. We have also recently discovered that we like a lot of Thai sweets, so that on top of the cake has made us feel like we are gaining a few extra lbs. That night we went to one of our favorite places to eat in town called The Living Room. Thais have very creative names for their restaurants. Anyway, we ate some food and Ethan drank some strange rice wine in Caitlin's honor. We also got to talking about the upcoming Thai festival Loy Krathong. We were told a few weeks ago that it's not a public holiday, so we still have to work, butttt we decided that night to hatch a plan in the hopes of making it to this most glorious of festivals.

Loy Krathong is a festival that takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. So this year it falls on November 28th. Unfortunately, this is a Wednesday and Loy Krathong, as I mentioned, is not a public holiday in Thailand. BUT we have heard amazing things about the festivals that are held in Chiang Mai and believe that if we missed it, we probably would never ever see it again. Two of the big parts of Loy Krathong are making a krathong (a little boat made of leaves and flowers with a candle) to float down the river and sending a big lantern into the sky. How cool is that?? So our plan was actually pretty simple although, admittedly, we made it out to be much more complicated while deciding what to do. We decided on two options. Option 1: Ask for Wednesday and Thursday off to go to Chiang Mai with the possibility of using sick days to compensate. Option 2: Ask to miss the English Integrated Studies conference that is mandatory (even though I'm certain we will get nothing from it) on the 24th-25th of Nov to go to Sukhothai, where they celebrate Loy Krathong on the weekend too. The 25th also happens to be my birthday so we decided to throw that at them if need be. This is also the reason I volunteered to be the group spokesperson. So we had our plan! And our doubts. It seemed unlikely that our coordinator would be OK with Caitlin and Kristin missing so much class because they don't have co-teachers, but we had to try.

A giant spider web, I promise. Tilt your computer if needed.
So Wednesday morning went by with a few missed opportunities to talk to Kru Rin about Loy Krathong, but finally my moment came. I started talking to her about other things, mostly our bathroom (or lack of bathroom I guess) and school things. Then I asked about Loy Krathong. It was like ripping off a bandaid and I honestly don't know why. I executed flawlessly and when I finished my speech I sat back and waited for the bad news. But it never came. She said that she understood why we want to go and said that we should go, buttttt (here's the iffy news) we had to ask the director first. So the first part is done with and she seemed confident that he would be OK with it. So now we are still waiting for a chance to talk to the director, but we are still hopeful that our Loy Krathong experience is still out there waiting for us!

Wednesday night I was feeling really great about life, but Thursday morning I was brought down from my little high quite quickly. The day started per the usual, except we forgot to get more yogurt from 7/11 the night before for breakfast. We had bananas though, so I thought this would be enough for me to take my antibiotics with, butttt I was sadly mistaken. We were sitting in the math office on our computers when suddenly I started to feel nauseous. At first, I thought it was just a random occurrence - it happens occasionally when I don't eat enough - so I brushed it off. But then it came back, but worse. At this point I was 65% sure I was going to vomit, but for some reason decided to try and make it go away. It didn't work. It was going to happen. I got the keys from Ethan and walked as fast as I could back to our room. I was NOT about to toss my breakfast in one of the squat toilets at school. So I'm walking and sweating and looking at every tree and bush to see if I could just go behind it, but there were too many kids. They had just been released from the morning assembly and they were EVERYWHERE! I kept my head down so none of them would say hi to me. I felt bad because they always say hi, but I just couldn't look up. I got to the apartment and there were some kids behind the stairwell cutting class I assume. Well... I hoped the sounds of barfing wouldn't gross them out because you can hear everything in or around this apartment and there is not enough time to tell them to leave!  I got upstairs and flung open the bathroom door. But I got nothing. Nothing at all. All that work and sweating and no vomit.

Buddha statue at our school
Well I suppose it was a good thing, but I was still feeling terrible. I sat in front of the van trying to gather myself for a few minutes. I just felt awful and knew I couldn't sit in a steaming hot classroom for an hour. So I walked back and told one of my co-teachers to tell the teachers I was with that day that I wouldn't be there. Ethan walked me back to the room and then went back to tell Kru Rin, but she already knew. She offered to take me to the hospital, but Ethan assured her it was unnecessary. I stayed at home all morning and Ethan brought me crackers and Sprite for lunch. After eating I felt much better, but stayed home the rest of the day just in case. :] I officially learned my lesson with malaria antibiotics - always eat more than a banana!!

Thursday night we made plans to go to Pua and have dinner/ hang out with Tristan, Kelly and Colin. I was feeling loads better so we hopped on the motorbike and made the 20 minute journey. We had a big dinner with them that was super delicious. A bit on the spicy side, but very satisfying. After that we went to Colin's house to hang out for a while. We had a great time swapping stories and talking about strange animal behaviors with them and before we knew it, it was time to go home. We got home pretty late, but the next day was Friday so we weren't too worried about it. (Ethan- Colin has it made in Pua. He lives in a 3 bedroom tree house type thing with an open air hang out spot. It puts our studio apartment to shame.)

Friday went by fairly uneventfully. Instead of watching a movie before bed, like usual, Ethan and I decided to chat about things. This is good for us to do occasionally because we get really wrapped up in the moment sometimes when we're deep in an adventure. We have to take some time to talk about life and our plans to make sure we're always on the same page. And if we're not on the same page we have to figure out how to meet on one of the pages in between - or at least try :] Anyway, it was a good talk and we made some plans for when we leave Thawangpha. We are very excited to travel southeast Asia! We got to bed as early as possible because English camp started bright and early the next day...

The view from the far side of the football field/grass track looking back at the school

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Her Majesty, spiders, roti and caves

After our trip to Nan we were exhausted and the week went by painstakingly slow, yet again. I even feel asleep in the math office one day – we were both on the struggle bus pretty much all week. The good thing about the week was the youngest princess of Thailand was coming to the school on Friday, so everyone was highly preoccupied with her arrival and didn’t notice how much we were slacking (at least we hope they didn’t notice). (Ethan- Skye should speak for herself. I'm always on my A game. Rule #76: No excuses! Play like a champion!)

Nothing too thrilling happened until Friday with the exception of us going to Pua (which really wasn’t that exciting, but it was different) and finding nasty spiders...more on that later. On Wednesday I was feeling particularly homesick and ended up almost in tears at school over it (lame I know, but being overly tired and hungry all the time gets to me after a few days). We had been trying to live on 100baht per day (about $3) between the both of us and that severely limited what we could do/eat (we decided on that budget because we realized we were getting low on baht and the ATM charges didn’t seem worth it). So we kind of gave up on our budget and went to the grocery store in Pua to get some snacks and checked out the town. We ended up with 6 banana muffins, 1.5 liters of orange fanta, oreos, and 4 bananas. We wandered around Pua a little until we found a pretty cool, indoor/outdoor market that sold the usual goods like clothes, shoes, toys, and purses. We got dinner after that and then headed back to our apartment. Like I said, it was not that exciting, but it got us out of our apartment and we got some things that remind us of home. Those things can really help when you know you won’t be going home for a long time. Not very healthy, but they sure do boost morale. :] 

When Friday finally arrived we were super relieved that we wouldn’t have much to do. We were supposed to have morning classes, but mine was cancelled. Ethan ended up having to teach one class that he was late for because they had to check our temperatures and give us a sticker that proved we didn't have a fever, but after lunch all attention was paid to Her Majesty’s arrival. The school had been given the royal treatment, which involved a bunch of really random improvements and some decorations. They also put up a bunch of tents over the areas where the Princess would be going, which was great because you were shaded pretty much everywhere you went. We still aren’t entirely certain why she was visiting, but we do know that she was there to see the doctors and nurses from the hospital, but the hospital is tiny, so they have her come to the school and all the nurses and doctors come here. So by lunch time the school was full of a bunch of random people, army men, policemen, firemen, first aid people and us. It was a bit chaotic, but we didn’t have to do anything so we didn't mind. 

When the Princess got here she made her way through the school grounds and during this time all the students and teachers had to sit outside on the ground under the tents in the walkway. When she passed where you were sitting you had to stay silent until she got close then you had to bow as she passed and say something in Thai three times. It took about 2 hours for her to get through the whole thing because it started down pouring in the middle of the whole thing. It was great for us because it created a breeze and brought the temp down a little.  We got a little wet, but it felt good. It was bad for the procession though because the tents were all separate so rain was just pouring between the tents and I think the Princess had to stop a few times. After she went through the whole thing we had to get our picture taken with her as a group, which was cool, but not the most pleasant experience we’ve ever had. First of all, we (Caitlin, Kristen and I) had to wear blazers over our shirts because we didn’t have teacher uniforms (there may have been another reason for this, but I’m not sure. Ethan had to wear dress pants, and a tie). Secondly, the pictures were taken in the schools open-air auditorium. And finally, we had to do a practice run and when it came time to finally take the picture we had to sit on the concrete floor for 20 minutes listening to her and another guy speak in Thai. After the speech the teachers and doctors/nurses sang a couple of songs too and we also had to bow a few times.

Here are my issues with this situation. It was about 98 degrees outside and I get sweaty in my loose fitting clothing already, so having to wear a blazer was pretty close to torture for me. Also, the auditorium is open-air, but here in Thailand there is rarely a decent breeze. So a couple hundred people sitting on concrete in 98 degree weather with no breeze – need I say more? Didn’t think so. Sitting in a skirt in Thailand is also no easy task. You can’t sit Indian style, but you also can’t sit with your legs straight out (pointing your feet at people is rude, especially to royalty). You have two options; sit on your legs, or sit with them out to one side with your feet behind you. Neither of these positions is even remotely comfortable, especially when you aren’t used to sitting that way. It was a long 20 minutes and after we finally took our picture with her I could barely stand because my knees were so stiff.  The coolest part of the day, other than being in the presence of royalty was watching the helicopters lift off. I’ve seen them in movies a gazillion times and always wondered what it would be like to be that close when they landed or took off. It was cool and the breeze (or wind I guess) felt lovely.

Her Majesty leaving the school
Overall, we enjoyed having the afternoon off and, while the heat was torture, we enjoyed watching the staff and students get to see their Princess. It’s hard for us to understand what having royalty at your school is like, but I’m guessing it’s pretty awesome for them. As much as I hated being stuck outside in a blazer for hours I have a lot of respect for the staff and students for doing their best to make the Princess feel welcome and appreciated.

Positive spin: good chance of becoming Spider-Man
Friday after school we cleaned our bathroom, which finally received a normal toilet on Tuesday and cleaned the apartment. I guess the guy that put the toilet in went to our coordinator when he was done and told her he had finished. When she told us the next day we were like “Ummmmm no. There is still no sink or shower in the bathroom. There are also no screens on the doors, no ceiling fan and no light in the bathroom.” She was mad at him, but we don’t expect anything to be done about it any time soon. That’s just the way things work here. At this point, having no screens on the doors or over the vents in the bathroom is probably our biggest concern. This is the bit about the spiders I mentioned earlier.... Since last Sunday we have encountered 4 enormous spiders. They are probably one or two sizes below full on tarantula size. One of them was on our makeshift curtain a few days ago, but Ethan and Kristin bravely killed it. I was too terrified to help. The next day we found one in the third floor apartment’s bathroom…while Ethan was showering and I was brushing my teeth. We killed that one too. I found one in our kitchen area, but decided to leave it (a poor choice in hindsight). We killed the fourth one when we got back from Pua. It was on the first step going up to our apartment, way too close for comfort. So Ethan smashed it to smithereens with a bottle of water. It literally exploded. Ew! We are at war with the spiders now and currently await their next move. We know their weaknesses (they're no match for shoes and water bottles), but they are tricky and cunning. I believe if we continue to be constantly on our toes we can kill more spiders and send a message to all the spiders lurking around waiting to strike – their presence is unwelcome and will not be tolerated! *I really hate spiders and will be highly grateful when someone finds the time to install some screens in our doors.*
Outside of the market in Nan
Saturday morning we woke up unpleasantly early, but decided we’d head out to Nan early. The long boat championship races were in Nan, so last weekend we decided to come back. We did some laundry before we left and headed out around 10. We made a reservation when we were there last weekend, but when we got to the Nan Guesthouse the lady spoke no English. I’m still not sure if there was any point in making a reservation, but whatever. We got a room and then headed out to the huge market by the river that we visited the previous weekend. We knew our friend Josie was going to be in Nan as well as some of the other people we had met, but weren’t sure where they were. We wandered around the market looking for food and checked out the boat races for a few minutes. It was probably the hottest day we have experienced in the north so far and you would think being under the shade of the market would help. I think it actually made it worse because the stands blocked what little breeze there was and turned the market into a sauna. It was torture. After we made a full loop around the market we kept going in search of a place to eat. Luckily we ended up running into Josie, Daylan, and two other people who live in Nan. Hooray!! We exchanged information, walked for a while with them and eventually decided we’d meet up with them later at the soccer field. After they left, Ethan bought a pair of fake Ray Bans for 50baht ($1.75ish) and we visited another one of the temples in Nan. Unfortunately, it is one of the temples that have a dress code so we couldn’t go in, but it was pretty.

In front of Wat (temple) Phrathat Chaehang (spelled differently on every sign)
When we got back in to town from the temple we got some food and then met up with Daylan, Josie and some others for some futbol. I didn’t play because that’s way too much work and sweat, but I chatted with Josie and the couple who lives in Pua, Kelly and Tristan. After Ethan got very sweaty playing futbol we headed back to the guesthouse to shower and meet the gang for dinner. It’s really funny when we all go somewhere together because half of us are on motorbikes and the other half are on bicycles. It’s obnoxious and all the Thai people stare and laugh. After dinner we all went to the guesthouse where we were staying to hang out on the roof. It was really great to chat with other people and get to know them. As was well for quite a while, but the more drinks people had the louder it got and eventually the staff threatened to call the police if we didn’t keep it down. We took that as our cue to leave. I was pretty tired though so I stayed back and finished reading Catching Fire (the 2nd book in the Hunger Games series) and started Mockingjay (the 3rd book). I also walked to 7/11 for my new favorite snack called roti. The walk was slightly terrifying given the number of stray dogs around there, but I didn’t see any in the two-block walk there or back. Lucky me. Unfortunately, the roti guy was gone when I got there, but I got some Dewberry cookies (short bread cookie sandwiches with cream and a drop of blueberry or strawberry jam) and these delicious peanuts covered in some crunchy sugary substance. Roti is our newest obsession here in Thailand. It is a desert made from dough that is fried in oil and coated with condensed milk and sugar. It is the greatest most delicious treat I’ve discovered so far. It’s like an elephant ear, but with out the cinnamon. It is probably horrible for us, but we’ve decided we don’t care. When in Thailand!

Ethan got back at about 3:15am. I tried to fall asleep before he got back, but that didn’t happen. The dogs in the area were apparently on crack because every time one of them howled the entire neighborhood of dogs and cats would start barking, hissing, meowing and howling for about 5 minutes. It’s very hard to sleep through and incredibly creepy. This happened twice before Ethan got back and one more time at about 4am. At 8am the roosters next door woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I’m beginning to really despise all the animals in Thailand. I woke Ethan up at 9 and we ate breakfast across the street again – he had an egg pancake and I had a banana pancake – and it was delicious!

Our plan for Sunday was to check out some caves nearby, but we didn’t exactly go to Nan prepared for a hike. The caves are located in a forest park on the way back to Thawangpha, so we figured we could check them out and if it was too much for sandals we’d come back. Turns out the caves are along a trail that winds its way up a “mountain.” You can’t really call it a true mountain because it’s really not that big, but the trail was steep and I decided after the first cave that the trail was indeed too much for my sandals. The first cave was small and creepy and had bats in it so I didn’t go in, but Ethan did. He also checked out the second one, while I sat at a pagoda in the park. He deemed the place cool enough to come back so we left it at that.

Ethan in the creepy little bat cave...
We got some lunch before we got back and as soon as we walked in we both passed out for a few hours. It was another great weekend spent with some cool people. We’re really glad we checked out the caves, and will definitely be making a trip back. This coming weekend we have been recruited to help with English camp in Nan. We are a little nervous about it, but excited to be doing something other than teach math and science (and we get paid for it!). Wish us luck and stayed tuned for the next post!! 

Monday, November 5, 2012

I plead The Fifth

(Note: The title is relevant, but we can't explain it any more for fear of being deported from the country. If you were with us Saturday night, you understand. If not, well just think of it as a meaningless title.)

At dawn….we ride!

After sport day, the rest of the week went by slowly even though it was pretty easy.

Wednesday was the day of the long boat races in Thawangpha so a lot of kids were not at school. We left a bit early that day to watch some of the races. The long boats are basically giant canoes rowed by a bunch of guys. The races take place on the Nan River, which has concrete stands where the races finish. On the day of the races the riverbanks on the more populated side of town are packed with people cheering on their respective teams and vendors selling snacks. On the other side, there is a market and a carnival-like atmosphere. There were even some carnival games. We watched a few races and then headed over to the market. Ethan tried a hot dog on a stick and I tried these angry bird shaped snacks on a stick. We are pretty sure they are made from tofu and cooked in hot dog flavored water. They were disgusting and we also didn’t know you could ask them to heat them up so we ate them cold. Never again. I bought a pair of purple Jasmine pants (3/4 pants that are tight at the bottom) at the market, after which it started raining. Everyone was packing up their stands so we decided to head out for dinner. The boat races were neat, but pretty boring overall. We didn’t know who the teams were and had no idea what the announcers were saying so it was only slightly entertaining.

Skye forgot to mention we went to Wat Nong Bua
On Thursday we didn’t have morning classes for some reason so I ended up only having 1 class and Ethan had none. It was nice, but mostly boring because we have to stay at school. Friday, was long and hot. My first period class had something going on so I didn’t have to go, but I had two classes at the end of the day. Having classes past 1pm is the pits because it’s sooooo hot. If I don’t have a fan pointed directly at me, I sweat miserably. It’s terrible. At the end of the day we went with one of the vice directors (not sure of his name) and his wife Kru Lin to rent a motorbike from their uncle. It made the torture of the day slightly less painful. We’d talked to the vice director about getting the motorbike the previous week, so the plan to do this had been in the works for a while and we were super excited. They drove us to one of the nearby towns called Chiang Klang where their uncle owns a repair shop. We chatted (more like smiled and nodded a lot) with the guy for a while and he showed us the motorbike. It’s red and relatively new so we were happy. Unfortunately, it was not ready for us to take just then, but they assured us it would be ready the next day. We crossed our fingers, but knew there was a possibility we wouldn’t see it again for a few days. We had planned to ride it to Nan the next day though so we really hoped for the best.

After the motorbike shop, we went out to dinner in the town closest to us, Pua. Pua is slightly bigger than Thawangpha, which is great because there is a large grocery store and more restaurants. They took us to this really nice place up on a hill that overlooks the main strip in town. We proceeded to have the best meal we’d had in Thailand yet. It was delicious! We had a vegetable/ground pork soup, cashew chicken, fried fish (that I didn’t eat) and stir-fried veggies. The cashew chicken was amazing and Ethan really liked the fish. During the meal we got to know the vice director and Kru Lin a little better, which was great despite our difficulties understanding each other. They told us about their family and asked us a lot of questions. We tried to ask them some questions too, but most of the time the point of the question was lost in translation. We got some interesting answers and a few times they just straight out told us they didn’t understand what we were asking. Anyway, it was a really great meal and we were grateful to get out of Thawangpha and eat some different foods that we really enjoyed.

This would be my favorite spot in Thailand to date...
Saturday morning we spent doing laundry and preparing for our trip to Nan. By some stroke of magic our motorbike was dropped off to us right at 12…exactly when we asked them to. We grabbed a snack at the market then headed out for Nan. We were planning on meeting a couple of friends (also in the program) there and were really excited to see them and hear about their experiences so far. It took us about 45 minutes to get there – we had to stop for rain twice (we bought ponchos in Nan, but I seriously wish we’d had them on the way). Once we got to Nan, we forgot our map to the hotel so we had to check the map at the tourist center, but we finally found the hotel (It is tucked into a corner on a tiny alley street so it’s hard to see). We pulled up and our friend Josie, who teaches in Wiang Sa (about 20 mins south of Nan), was already there. She helped us figure out how to get a room and then we headed up to the roof where a shaded area houses a hammock and some chairs. The hotel is really small, but we really liked it. For about $6 (200 baht) we got a small room with a queen size bed and a fan. All the rooms on the floor share the bathroom, but it was clean and spacious (there is 1 stall with a sink and shower and two toilet stalls). Once we had settled in, we hung out on the roof and waited for Caitlin and Kristin to arrive – they took the bus to Nan and had to walk to the hotel.

Once they got there and had settled in we headed out for some lunch, where we sat for quite a while talking about our different experiences and situations. It is nice to know that other people are going through some of the same things that you are. After lunch we hit up my favorite place in Nan, the smoothie shop! This time we got a maple nut mini-cake too. The smoothie and the cake were amazing. It’s a good thing we don’t have that in Thawangpha because we’d be broke. After our snack we headed over to the school where another friend from the program (Daylan) is teaching. She had mentioned that she was there playing soccer with some guys – we had no idea who she meant. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived because she was with a bunch of other westerners. Caitlin, Kristin, Josie and I gaped at them for a whole minute. Other native English speakers?!? How did we not know about this? She introduced us to everyone and Ethan joined the soccer game. We also met three people who are teaching in Pua that we had no idea were there. It blew our minds. While the guys continued to play we talked with the Pua people for a while about what they were teaching and how they liked Pua. Colin, Tristan and Kelly are really cool and we decided we needed to meet up with them since we lived so close.

At the local pizza place! Best find ever!
When the game was over we decided we’d go to dinner and then out to one of Nan’s “clubs.” We had to walk back to our hotel though, which really isn’t far, but it was super-hot and highly uncomfortable. We had the motorbike to take to dinner and the club though so our pain was only temporary – that motorbike is like a breath of fresh Michigan air and makes life here infinitely less sweaty. Dinner was amazing. We had cashew chicken, spring rolls, deep-fried kale, and this really strange but delicious chicken “quesadilla” - for lack of a better term – type thing. It was cut into wedges like a quesadilla and filled with chicken and other things, but it was wrapped in some sort of crunchy breading and fried. We loved it. They also ordered fish, which Ethan said was the best he’d had here – even better than the fish he had in Pua! (Ethan- there were also a number of rounds of beer bought and we ate everything Thai style, meaning family style) After dinner we biked down the road to a carnival/market. There was a ferris wheel, merry-go-round and carnival games. They also had a Muay Thai boxing ring set up and two young boys were the fighters. It was entertaining for a few minutes, but we left the boys there to watch while the girls wandered the market. This was definitely not your average Thai market. First, there was a stand selling bugs to eat, then there was a tattoo stand, followed by a stand selling the cutest miniature bunnies I have ever laid eyes on. They were like teacup bunnies that fit in your hands. They had a few in cages ready to sell and they all had little outfits on. We knew full well that this was highly inhumane, but we couldn’t get over how cute they were. The guy selling them picked one up that was asleep and we all about died. We had to get out of there before someone bought one. The rest of the market was fairly normal. They had clothes, fake watches and fake sunglasses, random food items and such. We found a place that makes Thai ice cream, which is finely shaved ice covered in a mixture of dairy products and flavors as well as your choice of toppings. It was good, but I prefer real ice cream.

Once we had escaped the market we headed to the “bar mall,” which is an area of town where all the bars are located. It was highly overwhelming, but pretty cool too. It’s essentially a wide road where all the bars are open air and all facing the middle. Since they were all playing extremely loud music it was hard to hear anyone so I mostly people watched while everyone chatted around the table. We saw more westerners to my surprise and got to talk to more people about what they were up to in Thailand. Once everyone had their fill of the bar, we went to the “club.” It was less a club and more a bar with live music. It was entertaining watching the band sing American songs really poorly and listen to Thai songs that we had no idea what they were saying. The experience was interesting to say the least and by about 1 am I was ready to go. Finally got my wish at 2:30, but when we stepped outside it was raining and I had to drive the motorbike back to the hotel. I was also the only one who knew how to get back. Sweeeeeet! We hopped on the bike and I pleaded with Ethan not to sway (he was a bit inebriated) as I have had about zero practice driving the thing with him on it. We headed out into the rain, Ethan and I on the motorbike and the three girls on their bicycles. It was pretty hard to keep the bike steady while going slow for the bikers and having 200lbs of Ethan (E- 195 pounds!) on the back, but we made it back...And I was quite proud of myself. 

The following day Ethan slept off the night til about 11, while I ate breakfast with Josie. After Ethan ate we went to one of the many temples in Nan that overlooks the city. The stairs to the top were torture. (E- 305 in all. I counted on the way down) We stopped numerous times, but it was well worth it. The view was amazing and the giant gold buddha watching over the city was really cool. After the temple we hit up the department store, grabbed lunch at the pizza place and headed back to Thawangpha. It was a lovely weekend and we thoroughly enjoyed getting out of our little town. We're also looking forward to hanging out with the cool people we met. :]  

Friday, November 2, 2012

chasing waterfalls + sport day

After our first “full” week we wanted to relax and see some of the sights around Tha Wang Pha. We knew there were a few waterfalls around the area and thought we’d check one out on Saturday. In the morning Ethan went for a run and ran into one of the deputy directors (assistant principles). He talked to him about going to the waterfall and the deputy (we still don’t know his name) offered to drive us. This was great news since we had no idea how to get there. He told us to he would meet us at 1pm to go to the Sila Phet waterfall.

So we got lunch and waited around until about 12:30. We walked over to the school and wandered around looking for Mr. Deputy. He was nowhere to be found. Hmmmmm? So we found a seat at one of the gazebos in front of the main office and waited. We had no idea where he was or where we were supposed to meet him so we just waited. At about 12:50 a truck pulls up and honks at us. It’s him. And his whole family. Crap! We did not realize this was going to be a family outing. We climb in and his wife (who works in the math department) introduces us to their son, daughter and her mother. They brought a picnic basket, a bunch of snacks and drinks. We’re not sure what we were expecting about this trip, but a family picnic definitely was not part of our expectations. Oh well…

We arrive at the waterfall and, like most tourist places here, there is a small market area where people are selling snacks and drinks. We walked up to the bottom of the waterfall and the deputy sees some friends of his across the river. He points and motions for us to cross. Hmmm… crossing a flowing river that’s about a foot and a half deep with a bunch of stuff in our hands. Should be interesting. We waded through the water slowly and carefully and made it to the other side unscathed. The deputy’s wife (can’t remember her name either) made lunch while their kids swam around in the shallow water. (Ethan- There was a Physics teacher there that was putting some whiskey back and ended up bringing the deputy director and me a number of rounds of "shots in a cup." More on him later.)  It was really quite beautiful despite the random piles of trash lying around. After a while we decided to walk up to the river to see more of the waterfall. It ended up just being more of the river, but it was slanted down so they call that a waterfall. Aside from being slightly creeped out by the jungle surrounds it was a nice walk. When we got as far as we could go we saw a bunch of kids jumping in at a deep part. Naturally, Ethan wanted to join in, so I watched while he jumped in a couple of times.

Jumping in the waterfall!
It started sprinkling after a while, but we figured it wasn’t a big deal so we stayed. The kids on the other hand started packing up and heading out. Should we go too? We didn’t really get why they were leaving. They were already wet from jumping in. By the time we were done contemplating the situation it started pouring. We high tailed it back to the picnic sight and helped the deputy and his wife get all the stuff around and started across the river. The teacher with the whiskey had a few too many drinks and fell over a few times as he was crossing. It was hilarious. He had the picnic basket, but by the time he got to the other side he had less than half of the things in the basket than he started with. Everyone thought it was really funny. Including us. We made it across again without falling over and made for the truck as quickly as we could. By the time we got there the rain had let up and it seemed like our rush to get out was all for nothing. We ended up leaving anyway and went back through the random cloud that was pouring down rain on the way back.  Overall, it was an awkward, but mostly enjoyable couple of hours with the deputy and his family. Now that we know how to get there, I imagine we’ll go back.

We spent the remainder of Saturday doing nothing. We spent all of Sunday doing more of nothing. I wasn’t feeling well, so we literally just spent all day lying around.

Tuesday was Sport Day here at Thawangphapittayakhom School. Sport Day is similar to field day, but with a few extravagant twists. The students have spent the last few weeks preparing for sport day. They even changed the school schedule so the students would have an hour at the end of the day to work on their various sport day projects. There were 6 different teams for sport day (we’re not sure how the kids are split up for the teams because there were students from every grade on each team) and each represented a different color. The teachers are also put on the different teams (not really sure how they decide this) and we were allowed to choose which color we wanted. Ethan was on the orange team and I was on the green team. On Sport Day the teams compete in track and field events as well as choreographed performances. Each team has a set of bleachers, which are decorated in their color and have giant painted surrounds. The surrounds are made of heavy paper and held up by bamboo – kind of like billboards. Every day after school the students have been practicing their performances, painting their surrounds, making props, practicing with their instruments and doing all sorts of random things to prepare for the days festivities.

The morning Sport Day parade!
On sport day, which started at 7:30am, the marching band and each team gather on the main street for the parade that officially starts Sport Day. Each team had a different theme and a bunch of random decorations. Some had floats and some just had a truck with some banners and students on it. Some were playing music and chanting and others just walked. It was a spectacle. We followed the parade on motorbike, which eventually ended up on the soccer field, and followed it back to the school. Once there, the band performed and they raised the various flags (one for Thailand, one for the school and one for the province of Nan – we think). A couple of people got up and spoke to the whole school – we have no idea what was said. As teachers we were allowed to hang out under the pavilion and watch all of the events. Thankfully there were snacks (delicious mini banana muffins) and water. At one point someone brought a couple of fans, which were lifesavers because even in the shade it was unbearably hot.

We watched the morning events and cheered for our teams. A lot of the kids ran without shoes on and some of them would randomly pass out or just stop running. We felt bad for them…it was so hot, but they would get rushed off the track, get a bunch of people to fan them and drink a bunch of water and before you knew it they were back on their feet. Each event was split up by age level so events like the high jump, javelin and discus took almost all day. They handed out medals as events were ending, which was pretty efficient, except there had to be someone to present the medals, which ended up being whichever teacher or staff member was nearby at the time. All four of us had to present medals at least once. We went out to lunch with one of the English teachers Kru Noi. She is one of my favorite teachers here. She’s always joking about things and making fun of us. I almost left my sunglasses at the restaurant and when I got back to the car from retrieving them she said “Oh my God. How old you are today?” She’s hilarious. Anyway, when we got back from lunch the events got much less exciting and the four of us just sat there in a post-lunch stupor for what seemed like forever. At one point I went back to our room and fell asleep for 10 minutes. It was bliss.

Skye-ke handing out the Gold.
During the afternoon events the students who were in the stands would do various chants and sing songs even though they were all playing music extremely loud (Ethan- They are 100% obsessed with Gangnam Style here and each team played it at least 5 times.) The performances were the last event of the day. They were entertaining, except the last few were interrupted by my least favorite event – the teacher relay. I had been dreading this since they told us about it last week. It was an 8 x 50 so we only had to run 50 yards, but just standing out in the sun for 5 seconds causes me to break into the most disturbing sweat attacks ever. I also had no shoes to run in and my plan was to say “Ehhhh sorry can’t run…I don’t have shoes!”, but no one seemed to care. Well Kru Rin said something about it hurting my feet, but then just walked away. Thanks for your help!! This was not going to be pleasant. They rounded us all up and told us what lane to run in and my teammates told me I’d be running 5th, which changed to 6th and back to 5th and then 6th again.

They shot the gun and the first people were off. I was already drenched in sweat from just standing there. The baton got to me and I attempted to run fast, but I really have no idea how fast, or slow, I was going. Fortunately, the guy I was handing off too moved toward me so it was over much faster. In the end, the green team got 2nd (yay!) and I didn’t hurt myself or sustain any serious damage due the intense amount of sweat that was expelling from my body. I got a seriously cheap silver medal for my efforts and a pat on the back from one of my teammates. After that they announced the winners for each age group and for the performances (I think). They were given trophies (all of which had soccer players on top) and giant boxes of cookies and various snacks. (Ethan- the orange team didn't fare too well in the relay as one of our teachers fell over just before she could pass the baton on, but THE ORANGE TEAM DID TAKE HOME THE GRAND PRIZE TROPHY OVERALL! FIRST PLACE! I also participated in the 100 yard dash among teachers, but the "ready, set, go" or whatever it was was in Thai so I got a terrible start and ended up 4th out of 8. Oh well, I have never been accused of being fast.)

All in all, it was a long, hot and entertaining day. While some of it was incredibly boring we would much rather have done that than teach that day.
From L to R: Team Red, Yellow, Orange, Purple, Green, and Pink