Welcome to the Baht Life- Day Three/Four/Five

Day Three

I started my morning off the way I do almost everyday, with a peanut butter sandwich and some fruit. I had all of the above, so I didn’t need to spend any money on breakfast. On the way to work I stopped and grabbed two Redbulls (20 baht/ $.67), to prepare for the energy drain that tiny children are. Also, please note that Redbull is $.33 in Thailand. I do not know how it is possible that it is actually cheaper than a bottle of water.

Work on Tuesday was really easy because my three hour-long preschool class was cancelled. That left me with two teaching hours with kindergarten, in a seven-hour work day (turns out I didn’t need to drink both energy drinks). I used some of the free time to lesson plan, but mostly messed around on the internet and skyped with friends and family. Unfortunately, lunch was fried rice with eggs and another dish I didn’t like, so I went and picked up lunch from a curry woman down the street from my school. The lunch I picked up ended up not being so great either and so a lot of it got wasted (40 baht/ $1.34). The biggest difference between meat dishes in Thailand and meat dishes in America is that in Thailand, everything gets thrown in the pot. After I saw what seemed to be like some large vein or vessel in my curry I was pretty turned off. It was a friend’s birthday at work, so I left during my break and picked her up a birthday cake from Nick and I (80 baht/ $2.68).

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After work at the elementary school, I went to meet up with a friend that I study with a couple days a week until evening hours. On the days I meet with her, I dont return home for eleven hours, and I’m pretty burned out by the time I do. After stopping to pick up dinner for Boobay and Kao-Home, my rabbits (60 baht/$2), I came home exhausted. I was debating what to do for dinner for myself, when Kay invited me out with her friends. I told her it wasn’t in my budget but she insisted on paying for me, so I ended up going to mookata with Nick, Kay and another couple.

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A mookata style dinner involves a hot bucket of coals in the middle of the table, that burn under a pot and griddle. There is a giant buffet line where you choose the vegetables, meats, noodles, spices and herbs that will go into the pot. The dinner I cooked consisted of pork, chicken, baby corn, noodles, morning glory, cabbage, and various types of mushrooms, all in a delicious broth that I poured over a bed of green noodles. We also had a beer tower, which is exactly what it sounds like. It stands at about 2 1/2 feet tall and the core is an ice cube surrounded by beer. We had an amazing dinner, which I could not have afforded to attend, were it not for Kay’s generosity.  A dinner style meal like this normally runs about 140 baht ($4.70), beer not included. It’s a good deal if you are looking for a wide arrangement of food, and more importantly want to eat dinner in a way that is different from the normal routine.

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After dinner we went back to the house to drink some more, and finish my preschool project, and I picked up a small bottle of whisky to share. The whisky I find myself most commonly drinking is Hong Tong, which runs 110 baht ($3.68) for a fifth sized bottle. It’s not too bad, but I don’t know if I will ever drink whisky again after my year in Thailand. It’s all I have had since leaving America.

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(Using peanut butter jars for drinking cups, and alcohol bottles for water painting glasses.)

Total- 310 baht ($10.37)

Day Four

On Wednesday morning as Nick and I were pulling out the garage, I challenged him to a race. We took separate courses to work and raced one another through the back streets and alleyways of Surat Thani. Although I lost and probably wasted gas, it woke me up with a little adrenaline rush, and got me ready to start my day.  I arrived at work and went through the regular motions of the day. Preschool-kindergarten-kindergarten-and more preschool after the lunch break. I brought in my cat piano that I finished, and introduced it to the preschoolers, who seemed to like it.

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When work got out I went to study with my friend and was with her until almost seven. Afterwards, I went to meet a girlfriend for dinner at a restaurant she wanted to take me to, and I had a nice dinner with a beer. I should have explained my budget to her, because I realized once I saw the menu, that most of the dishes were not within my price range. Even with a beer and appetizer, the meal itself was under $10, but hardly. On my way home I stopped for a bit of gas, which would last me until the weekend (50 baht/$1.67), and then arrived home at an empty house. Hanging on my doorknob was a dinner that Nick and Kay brought home for me from the market, and so I put it in the fridge for breakfast the next day. I worked on some student plans and then slipped away into a much needed sleep.

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Total- 270 baht ($9.04)

Day Five

Upon arrival at work on Thursday, I learned that it was Sports Day. It was a day where most classes were cancelled, so that students could watch sports competitions taking place on the fields outside. Often I arrive at work to discover I will not be teaching or classes will be cancelled, due to some event that the foreign teachers were unaware of.

The first half of my morning consisted of taking my nursery class for a half hour walk around the school to practice standing in a line and walking with your hands on someone’s shoulders. This was a total disaster. After the nursery I went to my next class, which is grade 4 in the government school. My school is divided into two parts, the private English program and the government side. The EP is for students who pay an extremely high tuition to be in a setting where native English speakers teach the majority of your teachers. They have nice facilities, newer resources, and get a better education because they’re paying a high price for it. The government side is a normal Thai school. The class size is twice as big, and the classrooms are filled with only desks and notebooks that are stacked along the wall on the floor. Often the air conditioner is not working and the classrooms are in pretty bad shape. I have three government classes, second grade, fourth grade and sixth grade, and I see them each for an hour every week. Their English level is very low and some of them are at a similar level as my kindergarten students in the English program.

When I arrived at my P4 class, only a few students were in the room, and the rest were out at Sports Day. I figured since this was their only hour of English each week I would hang around and spend some time with them. I let them teach me the card game they were playing, Circus, which turned out to be exactly like Uno. I was still like an English lesson, because they had to explain the game and rules to me, which required them to speak as we played. It was perfect because I got to know a few students more than I normally would, and since it was a relaxed atmosphere, they weren’t as nervous as they normally are about speaking with me. After spending the hour with those students, I returned to my office, and had the rest of the day free.

That evening we had a couch surfer from Russia come to stay with us, and we took her out to Koh Lampoh to watch the sunset and then to the night market. She was only in Thailand for a few days, and wanted to try a lot of different Thai foods, so we took turns buying and trying different things (50 baht/$1.67). After that we went for dinner and drinks with a group of friends at the pier, and had a really nice night (140 baht/$4.69). The whole town is decorated for Chinese New Year, and we walked around checking out all of the lanterns and food stalls with Chinese treats (30 baht/$1).

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Total- 210 Baht ($7.03)

Coffee House Observations- From the Pages of June 8, 2012.

 

It’s been a week since I’ve been back in Santa Cruz- the place that I loved to once call home. I’ve spent the last few days passing afternoon hours on the porch of a local coffee shop, basking under the beautiful sun that is so generous with California.

It’s good to be back in a place that I was never ready to leave, but had no reason to stay.

My life here is simple. I am spending my afternoons people watching.

I lean back in a chair that is too warm beneath my bare legs. My cut off jeans too short. A day for details, for recording single moments with too many words.

The table I sit at is all mine. It is pushed up against the red wooden railing that is slowly rotting in selected places. If I rub my arm against the grain the wood is sure to send little splinters lodging their way under my skin. Even though my back is to the Bagelry and it is over a block away I can not help noticing that the smell of fresh bread has drifted down to my spot at Pergolesi.

The people that are pulled here are always different, yet I am bound to see the same faces. The consistency of individuals who oppose the constant. The Regular.

From my spot that I alone occupy I watch those around me and separate them into the groups which I believe they belong in. It’s odd how our brains are always wanting to categorize. To label. To simplify.

The majority of the people filling the coffee house today are the students. The UCSC kids. With a week to go until finals, everyone is making a mad attempt at filling their heads with the information of a quarter in a weeks time. They lumber up the front patio steps, back packs and book bags thrown over their shoulders, the weight of the knowledge inside tugging against them with the force of gravity. Their arms are full of books, of overpriced readers, and they all have computers. Apple has successfully colonized the Slug population. Every single person that passes me has a MacBook. No other brand dares to infiltrate. Unlike the other guests here, they sit with their heads down, buried in their work, papers covering the table tops.

Leading up to finals week everyone enters a similar existence that I now find myself removed from. As I have left the bubble of academia last year, I am no longer part of this group experience. The experience of stress. Of knowing that everyone is running out of time to accomplish everything they have to do, just as quickly as you are. That your neighbor is most likely also sleep deprived from all the adderall they have been taking these past few days. Coffee binges, Pop Tart dinners, and pulling all nighters with friends and roommates. The weight of academia is closing in and everyone is gasping for air. For the first time in my life, I am just an observer.

Then there are the locals. The Punks. The Hipsters. The chains, patches and leather jackets. Tight jeans with stitching up the side. Holes in the back and on the knees. Combat boots and poka-dot mismatching socks. Outgrown hair that dangles in dreads. The resistance to look like a groomed member of society. The girls with the shaved heads and countless facial piercings. Tattoss documenting a wide varity of art styles, black and white/color, evidence of drunk impulsive nights, lyrics from favorite songs, skin that was used as a pracitice canvas for beginning artists. Hair in every color- more artificial than natuarl. Countless heads with beanies sagging off the back. Bags covered in pins sporting their favorite musicians or the faces of cats. Hole in ears, holes in lips, and just about every body altering look you can imagine. This is why I love this town. I am living in a book full of beautiful characters and they are better than any of the stupid people who occupy mainstream socity, which has become nothing more than reality TV.

A man a few feet from me laughs loud enough that he gets my attention. I look up and just at that moment catch eyes with the one I love. He is meeting me here. He is part of this academic bubble and is also under the weight of impending finals doom.

He grabs an iced coffee from inside and pulls up a chair across from me. We exchange a few words, then he opens his book on the politics of Brazil and begins to read, occasionally glancing around at those we share this space with. He and I know eachother well enough that silences are always comfortable. I don’t need to make small talk with him in order to pass the time. We are sharing one another’s company and today I enjoy it without words. I watch him and take in his face, his body. His feet are kicked up on the extra chair and he is leaning back just far enough from under the tree that half of his face is in the sun, while the rest is painted with a shadow.

He catches me looking at him. He stares at me and smiles, leans forward and  comments on my Ray Bans, “The reflectivity of someone looking into your soul, only to be shown their own.”

 

Saturday Afternoon

 

 

Since first moving out of my house three years ago to start college at the University of California Santa Cruz, I have spent countless hours packing up numerous rooms and then unpacking hundreds of boxes.

Although the sun is shining and there is literally not a cloud in the sky, today I have dedicated the afternoon to clearing out my room. Wait- rephrase. Beginning to clear out my room. In a month I will be moving out of my childhood bedroom in a different way than I ever have before. I will be leaving for at least a year to live in Thailand, and then I plan to apply for a program to work in Japan that will start in the fall of 2013. If accepted, it will be over two years until I return home.

A room is our own personal place, full of all the objects we have accumulated over the years- Many of which have sentimental meaning, and many which had it at one point and have now lost the meaning they once held. Where do you begin? Sitting here today, starring at the project that stands before me, how do I know what I will still want to hold onto in a year from now? Two years?

When I finally return home I will be far different from the person I am today.

I have to start clearing out this room full of possessions I won’t need anymore. A closet full of clothes that won’t be worn again. Material objects that are currently part of my everyday life, that I will no longer live with. Minimizing is incredibly refreshing. I own too much.

 

For anyone who has traveled and left behind the room they grew up in, full of the possessions they have come to own over a life time, any advice on where to start?

Free Flow

Life has a way of pulling us back to certain places. Pushing us in certain directions. This is how I found myself in Santa Cruz last month, for almost three weeks. It was how I found myself northbound on a California freeway, on the afternoon of June 5th.

I sat in the backseat of a car, cramped against the window, surrounded by my multiple bags of luggage as well as everyone else’s. My feet had been stuffed in the same position for at least three hours, with no where else to reposition them. Seeing as it was a ride share from craigslist that I had arranged, and I only knew one of the three other people in the car, I opted out of joining the conversation that revolved around medicinal marijuana, and chose rather to look out the window.

I couldn’t help thinking about the first time I had ever made the drive from San Diego to Santa Cruz on an impulsive afternoon in February of 2009. I had just met the guy who was to become my boyfriend that summer, and for the next few to follow. We had both recently applied to multiple UC campuses and were now waiting until Spring to receive our acceptance letters. We had decided that afternoon to drive to the UC Santa Barbara campus to check out one of the schools we had both applied to. After being slightly let down I suggested we continue driving north until we reached Santa Cruz, and spend the weekend there. My brother was in his freshman year at UCSC, and although I had never seen the campus it was on my list of schools I had applied to. I

We called my brother, got the ok, and were on our way.

Looking out the window on June 5th, I remembered how different the first drive had been from this one. The freeways, roads, and side streets you take to get there had all been untraveled land. The geography was foreign and unlike Southern California. The names on the freeway exits were new to me as were the many small agricultural towns we passed during the seven hour journey. These were names that my vocabulary didnt recognize, but would soon be ingrained in my mind for the rest of my life.

Three years later, I can safely say that I have done this drive somewhere around twenty times. Now when I look out the window I recognize places that I have memories attached to. There are the pit stops that we always stop at, the towns we drive through and know to keep our windows up (cow country), and the towns that are worth stopping at to get out, stretch our legs, and grab a burrito.  It feels odd to have such a familiarity with what is just a long stretch of road. And then to realize that I really only know half the state of that which I belong to.

The weekend I first spent in Santa Cruz was all it took for me to fall in love. It only took two days for me to develop such a strong bond with a town that has the ability to pull me back three years later- a year after my own graduation and departure.

In heading to Santa Cruz this June I was also being pulled back to the person I had first experienced the town with. I was coming to find some type of answer in what had become a lingering relationship. I was being pulled back by him, and pulled back by the town.

This town and my ex had both become magnets in my life. There had been a connection I could not deny and I had to experience it one last time – as I knew my life in Santa Cruz had ended, as had my relationship.

The town and this man have had the same effect on me. In them I have found a different part of my soul. In them I had discovered a level of comfort that I had never felt before. In Santa Cruz I had felt at home, and with him I had never felt more like myself. I have lived in multiple places and have met many guys, but no location or person was ever able to grab me and hold on the way that the two of them had.

But the truth I had to face even before making this last trip to Santa Cruz is that I had outgrown them both. Santa Cruz is by far the most amazing place I have ever had the pleasure of living, and it was the best choice I could have made for college, but it will always be just that- A town that allowed me to grow during my college years. It had its time and place in my life that was necessary for my personal growth. And, although I hadn’t wanted to admit it, that was the same in respect to him. I was meant to meet him, to grow close to him, and then grow apart. He helped me find a part of myself that I hadn’t known. He influenced me in the choices I will pursue in my career. He got me to think about issues globally, and to put my problems into perspective. With him I saw a compassion for humanity that I had never seen in anyone I had ever dated. But our time together had passed, and all the growing I could do with him was done.

I made the trip up to Santa Cruz because in a way I had been fighting what I knew was true. I knew that neither town nor man had any significant place in my life anymore and I would never move forward if I stayed with either. Yet I loved both so much I wanted to see them one last time. I knew that the only way for me to move forward was to leave them both in my past, and I think a part of me wanted to leave my last memories of him in the place that we had fallen in love in and with.

These were all thoughts that raced through my head as I leaned against the window, watching as we raced past varying landscapes, all disappearing behind us.

Rows, and rows, and rows of crops.

Of trees planted in perfect lines, separated by exact amouts of space.

Fields filled with plants that produce food that is shipped all over America to feed the nation.

Miles upon miles that stretch for hours.

“Where are we?” I ask.

Driver answers, “The middle of nowhere.”

I think that surely these crops are taken care of by someone. Farming is someones livlihood. These small isolated towns that smell funny are homes to someone. There must be someone who harvests these crops year round so that each night these fruits and vegetables can make it to my dinner table. The food that feeds me came from somebody’s middle of nowhere.

I dwell on this for a bit and then go back to letting my mind wander. I allow my mind to take control of my road trip as the conversation in the car rolls on about merits between growing marijuana inside and outside.

The landscape doesn’t change much if you’re taking the 5 freeway up the state. For many hours you pass by a variation of the same thing. Expanses of flat land, in every direction. Often a range of mountains off in the distance that make you feel as if you are driving through one great big giant valley. Everything that lies ahead of me soon disappears into my past.

Fields, plots of dirt, farms composed of trees, and ground growing crops. Every so often the tiny house smack dab in the middle. Or the old wooden barn. The farm eqiptment that is sprawled out around a stranger’s property in the middle of nowhere. A reminder that other people exist who are not just passers by on the freeway.

Traveling any amount of distance is good for the soul. It reminds us of our own lives, and by seeing the lives of others, it reminds us of all that we have. The lifestyles that we are fortunate enough to live. I thought to myself how traveling takes us out of our own elements, those which we are familiar with, and moves us in a way that activates our minds. Stimulates something new in the brain.

Imagination gives birth to what could be.

To what is and isn’t.

To all other possibilities.

Alternatives.

Choices.

A small farm house catches my eye and I wonder where these people send their children to school, since we have not passed any other sign of civilization in over a half hour. Do these California farmers even have children, and if so, what is Halloween like when you have no neighbors? Questions like these fill my head and go unanswered, as I do not want to interrupt the conversation which has shifted to the driver’s pet duck and his potty training method.

I wonder if it is just fate that today I am only a passer by? Staring at small houses out in the distance that looked as if they were plopped down from above, I realize that these are more than houses. They are homes. They are occupied by people who live lives that I could never dream of. Lives I would never desire to lead. Why them and not me? These towns are just places on my road trip to the final destination of where I want to be. This middle of nowhere will never be my reality. Has never been.

Hours have gone by and now we pass an artificial river that stretches over a hundred miles. It is how we are able to steal our water from the Hoover dam. I’ve been told the Colorado river doesn’t even make it to the ocean anymore, it’s been so over exhausted. Humanity as a whole, we are in big trouble.