I Just Want You To Remember…

After a month of disappearing into my Thai world, I am back and have more than enough to catch up on. But where to start? At the beginning and work my way toward the present, or start with the present and back track until I have finished where I left off?

I’m thinking the best place will be Boobay and Kao-Hom. They entered my life, as randomly and unplanned as everything else seems to. It was my first night in Surat Thani, and I was at some type of Thai fair with booths, vendors, games and rides.

I was walking through an extremely crowded and hot, covered-market when I laid eyes on them, well, Kao-Hom.

She was the tiniest bunny in the entire bunny-cage-exhibit, and she was bright white with electric red eyes. She was the most adorably possessed looking creature and I knew at that moment I had to have her.

After much begging and pleading I was able to convince my friend Michael that he needed one as well, because everyone knows you cannot just buy one baby bunny. That night we took our new little loves back to the hotel, snuck them in, and they have been with me since.

They instantly became best friends, and they are always cuddling with one another, or grooming each other. Sometimes I will glance over, and see Boobay licking Kao-Hom’s ears, while she closes her eyes and relaxes. They are addicted to throwing their bedding out of their cage and nibbling on anything and everything. They will eat for hours if allowed, and are able to nom on more cucumber than even seems physically possible, given their size. The first night I got them, Kao-Hom weighed less than a Snickers bar and barely took up my entire palm.

In the past few weeks she has doubled in size, and it won’t be long until shes no longer my ittybittybabybunny. I guess it’s true what people say, they really do grow up in the blink of an eye.

Next topic to address, what is this place Surat Thani that I speak of? Surat Thani is the newest place I am calling home, and hopefully one that will remain that way for the next year or so. I moved from Nakhon Sawan based on a decision that was made over night, with no real thought put into it. I liked Nakhon Sawan, and although it was starting to feel like home, it wasn’t the place that felt that way, but the people who were making it feel that way. Long story short, I was offered a job in Surat, the location looked amazing, and the transition was going to be into almost the exact same job I was going to be doing in Nakhon Sawan, so I took the offer. I accepted the job on a Thursday, and by Friday I was on a bus to the most southern parts of Thailand. I arrived in Surat after a full night ride and was instantly amazed at how beautiful it was. I know it sounds silly, but I really started to feel like I was finally in Thailand, the Thailand you see in pictures.

There were trees everywhere, tall ones, short ones, one with bananas, ones with coconuts, huge palms, ferns, vines, and flowers. Surat is extremely rural, while still remaining a decent sized city. It is the perfect combination and balance and I knew instantly that I was in love.

Surat is also located less than an hour from the beach, and is one of the closest cities to all of the southern islands. A trip to the beach went from being something I could only do during an extended holiday, to something I could do after work on a Friday. I impulsively went to Surat hoping I wouldn’t regret my decision, and despite the ups and downs, I couldn’t be happier here.

I am currently living in a hotel, called Thong Thong mansion, until I move into a house in December with two of my guy friends. I am working at one of the most desirable schools in the city, and I spend my days teaching preschool children and kindergarten. For someone who has no desire in having children, I keep finding myself surrounded by more and more little children. I love the kids I work with, but after spending all day with 2 ½- 6 year olds, I go home exhausted and drained of any energy I could hope to have. It is physically and mentally exhausting, and I have no idea how parents do it, especially young single parents. Taking care of a child has to be one of the hardest jobs, and having to take care of one full time seems unimaginable. I love walking in the door in the morning and being rushed and hugged by little tiny kids, but by the time 3:30 rolls around, elated doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling I get when I am hugging them goodbye.

My nursery classroom has about eighteen children in it, and the youngest are just under three and the oldest are about four. Their English level is low, but I know that I will see it rocket during the year that I spend with them. They absorb everything, and are constantly repeating me, even when I didn’t know they were listening. One student, see below, continues to refer to me as “Honey” which I think she probably picked up at home.

The first time she started calling me Honey I thought it was funny and kind of weird, and that it would pass. It’s been about a month now, and I am still her Honey. She will come up to me with her coloring sheet and get my attention by repeating “Hon-neeey” over and over again. Her tone of voice is the sweetest thing, and I love that that has become her nickname for me. To the rest of the kids I am teacher “All-leee, Ar-reee, Armeee, Aawee” or some other odd combination of letters with the long E sound.

The students all each have weird little quirks with me, and as everyday passes, I am getting to know them more and more, despite the language barrier. The thing is, with little children, it almost doesn’t matter that we don’t speak a common language. Yes, they know the alphabet, simple commands, and basic concepts, but they can’t really talk to me, and most of their verbal interaction with me is a mixture of Thai and English. I spend so much time doing interactive lessons that require them to express themselves through physical movement or art, that a common language almost isn’t necessary. By spending my week with them, I am learning their behavior, their personalities, and their likes and dislikes. Perhaps it is because I can’t verbally communicate with them, that I feel as if I am closer to these students than I have been in a very long time, with any other children I have worked with. There are times that they will sit in my lap, wrap their arms around me, stare at me and smile and laugh (while talking in Thai), and I start to understand the joy of having your own child, and what it must be like to have someone that you love so much, and that you helped bring into this world. But then I hear a scream from the other side of the room, and I see a child pulling something down off a shelf onto another kids head, and I am instantly ripped from this fantasy. Children are hard work, and the best part about my job is that at the end of the day, they go home to their real parents and I go home to my life of being single, unattached, and twenty-four. My responsibilities are minimal and I have literally no commitments to anything or anyone other than this job. Simplicity is bliss.

When I am not working, I am hanging out with the people I have gotten to know in town, and I am loving my new environment. While Michael was here, we spent our afternoons exploring the city on our motorbike, and spending the nights down by the night market.

We went to the beach one weekend, and it was the first time I had seen the coast in over three months. The water was warm like a bath, and when it started to rain, we stayed in the ocean just to keep warm. That night it started to pour on us- just dumped from above and everything we owned, including ourselves, was drenched. We stopped at a thrift shop to buy clothes to change into once we got rain jackets, but the thrift store only sold women’s clothes. We settled and picked out two girls shirts, one that happened to be pink, and was never meant for the size of Michael’s body. We went to 711 to buy our rain jackets and change into our new clothes, and watching him struggle to pull a tiny pink long sleeve over his wet head and shoulders was the funniest thing I have ever seen. Thai people actually stopped what they were doing and started staring at him. One lady’s jaw literally dropped as Michael struggled for far too long. The finished product was a tiny shirt that hardly reached his belly button with sleeves that had about six inches to go until they met his wrists. We put on our pink and purple plastic bag rain jackets and rode off into the dark stormy night.

Everyday I miss having him here, and I miss silly stupid little adventures with him, but I still am lucky enough to have a wonderful group of people to spend time with. My days are spent in the company of two South Africans and one American, and whomever else we end up seeing. The best thing about being in a traveler community is that you have a group of friends, so different than the people you would normally know at home. Everyone is from a different side of the globe, and everyone has a story that has landed him or her in this same weird place you are in. It’s a lot like college, minus the stress of academia.

As always, I am beyond thankful for the life I am living and wouldn’t trade it for anything. For some crazy reason I have been given this beautiful opportunity, that so many others will never experience. Everyday is an adventure, everyday is a rebirth, and everyday is greater than the last. Traveling abroad has been the best choice I have made for myself, and if you are even considering it, take my advice, and go for the plunge. Whatever fears or reservations you have should not prevent you from living your life in such a new and drastic way. You will see yourself as you never have before and you will test your mind body and soul in ways that every human should be.

Leave everything behind and just… go.

477 Stairs Later…

Yesterday I woke up before 7 am, showered, grabbed some fruit for breakfast from a street vendor, and made my way toward one of the temples in Nakhon Sawan. Why so early, you ask. By noon it is unbearably hot to be outside, and by three in the afternoon the rain clouds approach, ready to release the floods. If you want to do anything active in Thailand, you need to do it first thing in the morning or in the evening, if it isn’t raining.

The temple sits on one of the mountains nearby, and overlooks the entire city. To reach it you must climb almost 500 stairs which are built at an incredibly steep incline.

(Thailand’s Temple Dogs)

A view over looking the park and lake across from my home

There were temple dogs everywhere.

By far, the greatest flight of stairs I have ever climbed.

Wait, what?

From here on out this blog will follow the life of an individual living outside of their home country for the next year. It will focus on the total and utter confusion I now call daily life. These past few days I have come to realize that I no longer have any idea what is going on around me.

It all began Tuesday night, around 11 pm when my plane landed in Bangkok. After traveling for about 27 hours I was happy to finally be off a plane and eager to leave the airport. I quickly realized how difficult communication was going to be, when my luggage did not show up and none of the airport staff spoke English. Finally, I was able to meet with the claims office for my airline, and they told me that although my luggage had been delivered to the wrong place, they would have someone drive it out to me the next day. To hear that was both a relief and an annoyance, because I had been in the same clothes for two days, but at least they knew where my luggage was.

(Appreciation of simplicity when you don’t speak the language)

I met my boss, Mike, at the airport, and then took a three-hour car ride to the town that I now call home, Nakon Sawan. He checked me into a hotel that was completely decked out in Hello Kitty decorations, and I quickly passed out, exhausted from traveling.

(Self portrait, first night in Thailand)

The next morning I sat outside my hotel, drank some tea, and was attacked by a litter of kittens that happened to find me as I was waiting to meet up with Mike.

Mike came and met me on a motorbike, gave me a tour of Nakhon Sawan, and took me to lunch and then to find an apartment. For lunch we went to Kup Kup, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that had about four tables, and is notorious among the foreigners living in the city. My first meal in Thailand, Pad Kapow Moo (fried basil pork), was incredible.

These past few days I have quickly come to learn that Thailand’s food is nothing like America’s Thai Food. Not only is it much tastier, but also it is so intensely spicy, even the breakfast dishes. The menus are all in Thai, which makes ordering somewhat of a challenge. I am trying to learn the names of what I like so I can order without a menu, since I have no idea how to read Thai. I have found that the easiest way to eat are the street carts. They have huge bowls of different dishes, and pointing and smiling seems to work. The only problem with this is I still don’t really understand what I am ordering. Lets just say I am learning to expand my taste pallet. Most people in Nakon Sawan don’t speak English, and since I don’t speak Thai as of now, everything I do is a game of trial and error. Yesterday as I was ordering a girl came up next to me in line and she happened to speak a little English. I was about to order what looked like a super yummy veggie dish, but noticed some type of meat in it so I asked her what it was. She asked the woman working the cart and then replied, “liver.” I decided to pass.

After lunch I found a place to live, in the heart of the city. I am renting a room in a hotel, which is much too large for the amount of furniture in it. My place is similar to a studio, except that I don’t have a kitchen, only a fridge. I am on the fourth floor, so my balcony has a decent view of the city around me.

(Mid-afternoon storm weather)

All the floors are tile and the walls are cement, so every sound I make echoes and bounces off of the space around me, which has made me very conscious of how loud I am. The other girl I got hired with, Danni, lives on the floor above me, which is really nice. I have never lived alone before, but having her upstairs reminds me of college and campus housing.

(The entrance of my building)

On my first real night here I went out to dinner with all of the teachers I work with. There was a group of about ten of us and we went to a restaurant where I got a taste of how different this country was going to be. For starters, the buildings are not enclosed like ours are. It’s more of a giant room with a roof, but no front wall. Almost every restaurant is like this, and I assume it’s because it’s too hot to keep the buildings closed up. As I was sitting at my table, I noticed something you don’t normally see in American restaurants… cats. There were cats strolling around everywhere and no one even glanced at them. They just cruise around the tables and wait for leftovers. I am surprised that they are able to handle such spicy food, since I don’t believe their natural diet would include so many chili peppers. I have come to assume they are mutant Thai Kitties. I let the other teachers order dinner for the group of us, and we are shared a bunch of dishes. Some things were kind of similar to dishes I had tasted before, and then others were unlike anything I had ever seen in a restaurant. One dish was a big fish that had been fried and cut open, and then stuffed with peanuts, shrimp, and a bunch of veggies and some things I had never seen before. The fish still had its face on and I’m almost positive they fried some of its organs. In Thailand it is illegal for them to sell booze at a restaurant, but not illegal to drink in one, so we brought all of our own hard liquor and then they mixed it for us and served it back to us. However, it is not illegal for them to sell beer, and oddly enough beer here is served over ice. This is because the air is so warm that the beer doesn’t stay cold if you pour it in a glass. It sounds funky, but the beer and ice they serve isn’t as bad as you would expect.

After dinner we went to a bar called Container, which is exactly that. The owner, God (the coolest guy ever), converted a giant old storage container into a bar. Most of it is outside patio seating, and then the actual bar is in the container, which has been reconstructed in some way to function as a building.

The Container is somewhat of a foreigner’s spot, and we were the only people there, other than God and a few others who work there. We stayed into the early hours of the morning, drinking whisky, exchanging stories, and getting to know each other.

The following day Danni and I went to breakfast at Mercy coffee, where we recuperated from the night before. Danni found Mercy, and I have a feeling we will be spending a decent amount of time there, since their menu is in Thai and English, and one of the owners, Tee, speaks a little English. Mercy reminds me of a hipster spot, with its bicycle frame art structures, vintage camera decorations, and the old-fashioned typewriter on a stand by the door.

After breakfast we spent the afternoon exploring some of the area around our hotel. Although I have only been in Thailand I can say with certainty that they are obsessed with four things-

1. Cats

2. Mustaches

3. American flag print clothing


4. Hotdogs

Every store I enter has both a cat inhabiting it, as well as cat clothing. There are cats everywhere.

And next to the cat shirt is the shirt covered in little mustaches. And next to that is the denim shirt with American flag trim on the sleeves and collars and pockets.

Danni and I went in a 711 to pick up a few things and I have never seen more hotdog products in my life. Everything here is made with a damn hot dog. Hotdogs on pizza, pre packed mini hotdogs in buns, hotdogs in pastries, and they even had bacon wrapped hotdogs spinning on their hotdog grill. And their hotdogs are not like the ones you see in America. These are extra long giant dogs. I’m talking like two feet of processed meat the color of my skin. Creepiest hotdogs I have ever seen.

The snacks they sell all come in really odd flavors as well, such as spicy lobster Pringles. Danni and I probably spent a half hour in 711 checking out all the weird food and funny labels and trying to figure out what things were.

(At least some stuff is in English)

On our way back from 711 this lady started yelling at me from across the street, ran up to me, and delivered me a piece of paper with an email address on it and a note that said, “Hi, my name is —, nice to meet you.” It was from the day before, when I met the girl who told me what the liver dish was. Our encounter had been brief, maybe only three minutes, but I was told this will happen often, and soon I will have tons of friend requests from Thai people on facebook, who I have only met once, yet they managed to track me down. One of the other teachers told me she had received a message on facebook from someone she met the night before, that said “Hi, it was nice meeting you, I miss you.” I have had people shout, “I love you” multiple times as I walk down the street, or they honk their horns as they drive by. It is a really uncomfortable feeling how much they like Americans, but I was told to expect this, seeing as there are very few Westerners in this area, maybe only fifty in a city of half a million Thai.

Being cut off from communicating with those around me has been the most difficult part of this week, since it makes every interaction really confusing. Throughout the day trucks drive around the city, either blaring pop music or some sort of announcement from their roofs, and I have no clue what they are talking about or why.

I immediately learned to laugh at myself as I attempt to speak basic Thai with storeowners and those at restaurants. I have come to accept that they are either laughing with me or laughing at me, but either way were both laughing so it seems to be going ok.

This weekend I meet my different groups of students, and then Tuesday I take over my classes full time, and I couldn’t be more exited to start work. From what I have been told I have total and full creative control over everything I do, and no one ever supervises me or tells me how to teach. I get to work with all different ages so the variety of what I will be able to plan is exciting.

I couldn’t be happier to have finally made the move here, and I can tell this is going to be a life changing experience. I am looking forward to the amazing adventures that this year will hold.

(Girl in 711 with her cat)