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The Final Days

19 Mar

Well, I did it!  I am officially complete with my year of teaching here in Thailand. Many good-byes have been said and there is packing to do.  My flight leaves Chiang Mai on Sunday and from there I am off to a new adventure.  The policies here in Thailand leave little wiggle room for departure.  My employer canceled our work visas this past week and from there we have just a few days to leave the country!  So, off I go.

In many ways it is a good time to leave.  March is the beginning of hot season in Thailand and temperatures are already up into the 100’s Fahrenheit where they will stay and exceed for months in the future.  And while I am told it is not bad this year, it is also the “smokey season” when farmers burn their fields and the city’s pollution is at a high.  But gratefully the mornings still leave a faint remembrance of the cooler season gone by with a few hour glimpse of refreshing breezes and temperatures.

So here I am in this strange time.  This time of packing, change and limbo.  At times it has created that rare pocket of space that feels like absolute freedom.  No commitments, no obligations… enjoying the open roads, freedom and blue skies of Thailand with no expectations to speak of.

Of course this time of transition and change doesn’t come without its tug and pull… being caught a bit in the birth canal of yet another new transition. Floundering between freedom and liberation and compulsion and fear.

I spent my Saturday morning on a as of recent regular outing to an outstanding Thai massage place in the rice fields just beyond the busy streets of Chiang Mai. While finding this place the first time was a bit traumatic… and required some emergency assistance…now that I know where I am going I love to go and appreciate the care I receive at a very reasonable cost.

On the way to Ban Muan Jai

On the Way to Ban Muan Jai

On the Way to Ban Muan Jai

On the Way to Ban Muan Jai

It is called Ban Muan Jai.  It is a modest, clean and friendly place run by a husband and wife both well-trained and experienced in Thai massage. This is the kind of place you go to not just for relaxation but to receive a treatment to tend to whatever is ailing your body.  It’s been a treat to travel there on the quiet roads just off the busy main way and to receive a long, attentive therapeutic massage.  Something I will miss once I leave Thailand.

Ban Muan Jai Massage

Ban Muan Jai Massage

And so here I am.  In the countdown.  In some ways this is a little bit of my favorite time.  Not too much to do except the final packing and taking the time to save this and discard that.  It seems this is somehow an important part of my transition process… having the time and space to slowly “un-nest” in a nesting sort of way.

I can imagine what might be ringing in your head… what’s next?  So what is next?  Well, I think it’s not time to tell just yet. But I will say that the feeling of late is that it’s time for a break and time for a rest.  Travel, while world opening, rich and transformational is also… stressful.  I have had a big ol’ wide heaping of life served up to me these last 5 years that has stretched and opened me up in countless ways…but I am wanting in one or another something different… for now.

And that said… we will see what happens!  I am the woman who started out on a 6 week trip to Germany and ended up in Thailand 5 years, 4 countries and 2 continents later.  And while I am wanting a feeling of stability for a bit, I also feel it’s important to be open and see what might unfold.

So hold tight for just a little bit.  I am on my way and will soon emerge in new territory and in one way or another will continue this journey that began 5 years ago by taking a leap and buying a plane ticket to Europe.  It may not look like international travel for a while.  But we’ll see what unfolds.

And in the meantime… I am grateful Chiang Mai.  I am grateful for your grit, color and beauty, for learning your ways, riding your streets, being opened up and challenged by your children, learning to laugh when I wanted to scowl and mostly for just being part of a wild world that allowed me to see a broader side of life, the world and myself.  Thank you!!

Current of Change

17 Feb

It’s been a semi-steamy week here in Thailand.  Overall the weather has been just great.  Cool mornings.  And while many days still find the 90s (F) the coolness of the morning sets the whole day in better place.  It feels like there is alot going on my life lately… with the big “end of the year” ball rolling at work and with my time in Chiang Mai.

With our school year ending in a matter of weeks, the new school year starting the beginning of May, and changed Visa policies making it more challenging for teachers to get Visas, my employer has already hired teachers for the new year. On more than one occasion I’ve met the “new faces” getting a tour of our office space, including my replacement.  Just another stark reminder…as I have chosen to leave after this school year… that the end is coming.

Even though I have been traveling for 5 years now, with heaping servings of uncertainty along the way, transitions are always difficult for me.  I am clear it is time for me to leave, but there is always some apprehension as I depart circumstances that in many ways have been “home” with more uncertainty waiting on the other side.  It often moves my mind and body into a tailspin.  But, just the same, it also fun and exciting to wrap-up one place and head in a new direction.

In some ways things are a bit smoother at work.  Our big English Fair is complete which had our lunch and class times bustling with singing and dance rehearsal.  Although I tried to be light about the whole “dance performance” thing, at a school that takes singing, dancing and performing fairly seriously – it was at least a little bit of a big deal.  It was Friday night when the fair was held and all the classes took their turns performing on the big stage – professional lights, sound and all. My students’ first dress rehearsal was – a little rough.  But after a few more last-minute rigorous practices, they did a great job! It’s amazing how them getting on stage made me more nervous than being on stage myself.  During the performance where was I?  I was the geeky teacher to the side of the stage meticulously mouthing all the words and doing the dance moves. When they were finished it was big relief and fun to share that moment of happiness and success with the students.

Some completions here in Thailand are already coming to be.  I taught my last “2-skills” class last week.  At my school our classes are divided up between “4-skills” classes that we see every day and “2-skills” (speaking and listening) that we see just twice a week.  I have 6 “2-skills” classes – so a total of twelve a week.  These classes are larger (about 44 students or so) and fold into the regular English lessons taught by a Thai teacher.  While all my students are great, happy bundles of energy- collectively they will give you a run for your money.  In some ways these classes are fun because they are less serious, more light-hearted.  Lessons are generally simple and taught in a way that is fun and easy to digest.  The challenges come with the sheer number of students in the classroom and the low-level of English comprehension.  So, while the students may like you, they don’t understand most of what you have to say – and perhaps some “selective hearing” too.  At any rate, the “2-skills” classes were both my joy and challenge this year with a great big dose of enthusiasm and energy (not necessarily directed towards me or learning) that was sometimes fun and at other times hard to digest.  Of course finishing anything is bittersweet… it is still “something” to be complete with the lessons on that journey.

However, the year isn’t complete yet. We still have individual speaking tests to complete (over 230 students for me total!), reviews and final tests to go and then a few weeks of teacher wrap-up.  In all honesty, while there are many things I have appreciated about my time in Thailand, there have also been a number of things that have been challenging.  A few weeks ago I had a spontaneous “heart-to-heart” with one my supervisors.  What unfolded was my clarity of how rich this time has been for me.  I could feel the bounty and how much I have changed shape, grown and expanded from living and teaching here and riding the huge wave that is this bustling respected local Thai school.  And for that, I am so grateful.

And with that I will say good-bye for now.  Back to tending to my post-work haze – doing my best to glide comfortably in the current of my latest transition.

How are things in your world?  It’s always good to hear from you!

 

-Featured image above, bridge construction “Thai-style” over the great Ping River.

 

 

 

What’s Cookin’ in Chiang Mai

31 Jan

Wow, it’s been quite a week here in Chiang Mai.  Earlier this week we had an unexpected “Chiang Mai version” of winter. The temperature dropped down to about 50 F.  This was quite a shock to the system after months of temperatures in the 80s and 90s.  I heard it was even recording-breaking cold! We had a few days of good “bundling-up”, some cold (and one wet) morning rides to work, and one day you could even see your breath (the kids at school of course loved this!). I even broke out a short down winter coat and my wool long underwear from Germany!  “What’s all the fuss?  That’s not that cold!” you might think?  It seems at least part of it is the tropical humid weather makes the cold even colder, an icy cold that shoots straight through you. Also, buildings here have no insulation and no heat.  Plus, your body is used to (at least somewhat on my part) hot weather! For a few days, there were many empty seats in classrooms and students bundled in fleece blankets and fuzzy animal hats.  As much as I complain about the heat, I am glad to have things back to “normal” today with pleasant blue skies and a comfortable 81 degrees.

Things are a bit crazy at work lately.  In part because we are preparing for the annual NP Fair, put on by the Native English Program at my school.  For the teachers this has us creating booths for the fair as well as preparing students for song and dance performance extravaganza.  As the end of the years is winding in, it is inevitable that teachers are a bit exhausted (I personally am…) and students are… well, let’s just say… less interested in paying attention and listening.  But like it or not, here it all comes and the crazy dance continues of life and teaching in Chiang Mai.

Tom Yum Soup

The beginnings of Tom Yum Soup

This weekend I treated myself to a Thai Cooking Class.  It was something I was hesitant to do with all of my food sensitivities. More and more it is challenging for me to eat here… but I thought perhaps if I cooked the food I could at least control what goes into it and learn a bit more about Thai food and culture.

I chose the Thai Farm Cooking School in part because they use organic ingredients they grow at their farm and also because of their popularity and high rating.  Plus you they pick you up, take you to their farm out of the city – always nice to have a little break from Chiang Mai and some new scenery for the day.  You cook I think… six different dishes… and get a selection to choose from.

curry paste

Curry Paste

Overall, it was a great day! The other folks in the class were all really personable and it was fun to spend some time and talk with an assortment of people with their own travel experiences and stories to tell.  And I learned a lot about Thai Food!  I was able to make most of the foods with some adjustments.  With these adjustments (mostly no adding anything that included sugar), some dishes tasted okay… and some in earnest were completely flat.  This class helped me to get clear that most Thai dishes simply rely on the MANY sugary sauces for their good taste.  A bit of a bummer for me, but also an eye-opener to the extent of the high sugar content of the food here.

curry

Chicken Curry

One of the highlights of the day was making our own curry paste.  We each had our own impressive mortar bowl and pestle. We added the curry ingredients and pounded away for a considerable amount of time until our paste looked like “peanut butter” as we were told. This was the basis for the curry we made later, a dish that still tasted pretty good even though I left out all of the sugary sauces used to complete the dish.

Overall they did a great job of being patient with me and adapting to my food needs and requests.  I would recommend them for someone with food sensitivities as they seem pretty adept to it.  However, the inevitable truth is that many of the dishes just don’t taste that great when you have to leave out some of the main ingredients…

That said, I now know what many of the “foreign” veggies are that I see in the supermarket and also know what they are used for – which is great!!  And I feel more informed about some basic Thai food and dishes.

Today at the JJs Organic Market, one of the regular weekly markets here in Chiang Mai, I ran into an American woman who has lived in Chiang Mai for ten years and also happens to be an organic growing expert.  One of my concerns here in Chiang Mai is that you don’t REALLY know what is organic and what isn’t – even at an “organic” market.  It was such a relief to chat with her a bit about finding organic food in Chiang Mai.  One of the challenges here, as she pointed out, is that it’s hard to really get the truth about things.  Someone may say something has no pesticides but you can’t count on the fact that they are telling the truth… which makes it difficult to eat healthy.  She pointed me towards some growers at the market she worked with personally who she could confirm are organic growers.  She also gave me some simple tips like if the veggies look kind of “bad” that is a good sign that they are grown organically.  Bug bites, for example, she suggests are a good sign when looking for organic food.

She also warned that many street markets use harsh pesticides including formaldehyde!  I do my best to stay away from traditionally grown veggies here as I know harsh pesticides are used… but had no idea about the formaldehyde!  And so the adventure of healthy eating on the international landscape continues!

I have just a little sunny day weekend left and look forward to a Thai Massage later today as the weekend sneaks away and a new workweek soon begins.

How are things in your neck of the woods?  It’s always great to hear from you!

 

Cool Times in Chiang Mai

17 Jan

It’s been a busy, good week here in Chiang Mai.  Our final quarter of school is in full uproar and the craziness and shenanigans of teaching life in Thailand continue.  It’s been great to have some time in Chiang Mai with wonderful cooler weather and I am doing my best to soak it all up while it’s here!

My school has its annual English fair coming up in February which has me playing a new role with my students and in the classroom – singer and choreographer.  Yes, that’s right.  Each of our classes will sing and perform a song in English at the fair.  It’s a bit of a big deal with professional microphones, a giant stage and music. My class will be performing “Ain’t no mountain high enough!” which is fun.  We’ve started learning the words this week, no small task for 10 year-old Thai speakers.  As the recorded music was too fast for them at first, I found myself turning off the stereo and singing to my students.  It was a trip… and… kind of fun, too.  This coming week we begin… the dancing which in earnest will be nothing too fancy as they are still simply learning the song and time is ticking away.

It’s been a much needed good chill weekend. Lately, with just the buzz of teaching and my upcoming transitions on my mind I am requiring more down time just to come back to neutral.  I did a little exploring in Chiang Mai yesterday and found my way to Wat Sri Suphan also known as “The Silver Temple.”  It was a casual peruse.  I arrived late morning and couldn’t help but feel the eyes on me as I walked around.  I was one of just a few visitors at the time and noticeably felt my “farang-ness” (the word for foreigner here) as I explored the temple.  The highlight is the silver temple which I admired, but only from the outside as I wasn’t allowed to go in because… no women were allowed (there was a sign there stating this).

There is much on my mind lately considering what is next along with my typical on-set of anxiety in the face of uncertainty.  Timely enough, I am participating in a positive, invigorating 12-Day Challenge led by Reiki Master and Intuitive Guide, Maureen O’Shaughnessy.  Maureen is really a feel good person and her coaching and interactions leave me feeling better. The challenge is all about refocusing our lens and changing our perspective.  She offers tips and wise guidance that provide a daily pick-me up.  After just a few days, I already feel better, more relaxed and at ease.  She offered some wisdom in response to my concerns with anxiety and what is next for me.  She said that safety and security exist within us and not our circumstances and to shift from anxiety about the future to curiosity.  I thought this was a really powerful and freeing perspective and am letting this soak in a bit as I navigate the waters of “what is next for me.”

Sunday evening has sunk in and the weekend is slipping away.  Good night for now and as always feel free to write.  It’s always good to hear from you!

Happy, Healthy New Year

9 Jan

I can feel it.  It’s a whole new year.  It may be 2016 to many of us, but here in Thailand the year is 2559 (that’s in Buddha years). It’s hard to believe that it’s January as I sit comfortably warm in my apartment with the golden sun and shiny blue sky making its regular appearance.  Yes, it’s the best time of year to be in Chiang Mai.  The cool mornings do a world of good to cool off bodies and buildings before the still steady heat of the afternoon makes its arrival.  This time of year is called “cold season.” I am surprised at the temperature range that happens now from day to day… lately morning lows are about 13 degrees C (mid-50s F) and afternoon highs nearing 30C/86F.  Because this is a tropical climate, the humidity shoots the damp cold right through you.  I understand now why the markets have been selling gloves, scarves and winter coats… it’s for those chilly morning scooter rides.  You won’t get frostbite here but in the mornings it does feel… cold…ish… in it’s own kind of way.

It feels like it’s been a busy time for me lately.  The holiday break passed by quickly.  It was a good time of personal exploration as well as some healthy R&R and sightseeing around Chiang Mai.

School has started back up again in full swing filled with the final quarter lessons and the standard assortment of extra activities.  Upon returning to school reality hit me like a brick wall, now fully realizing that this school year is slipping away in just a few short months (along with my Thai Visa…).  As I plan to depart at the end of the school year, I am now more diligently focused on tending to what might be next.

Children's Day

Children’s Day

I have also been focused intently on handling quite a variety of health-related issues.  I have felt a “push” lately to pay deeper attention to some new and long-term health issues and kick it up a notch.  I am learning more day to day about tending to the details important for me in truly sowing a life of good health. It isn’t always easy doing this in a foreign country – with different practices, customs and expectations.  It can take some extra effort and patience but I am finding that with a little creativity and some persistence, I can care for my health using natural methods at a high standard.

Recently I made a move away from grains and have been eating grain-free. The good news of this exploration is it has invited more vegetables into my life. Veggies for breakfast, veggies for lunch, veggies for dinner. The truth is, without gluten, sugar and grains… veggies are just about the best thing going.  I have enjoyed integrating more vegetables as both a source of protein and carbohydrates.  It’s an adjustment but it’s been fun expanding my veggie regiment and trying some new things… new recipes, trips to the Sunday Organic Market at JJs

"TLT" - Tempeh, lettuce and tomato

“TLT” – Tempeh, lettuce and tomato

Of course I love food, so it is truly one of my favorite past-times having healthy, simple food that works for me.  I am often collecting new healthy recipes on pinterest.  If this strikes your fancy, you can check it out here.  Just today I tried a new simple combination inspired by the BLT… it’s a lettuce wrap with organic tempeh (from the local farmers market,wrapped in banana leaves), tomato, avacado, and quinoa.  I fried up the tempeh in a little organic coconut oil, assembled the goodies and topped it off with a simple sauce I made from yogurt, a dab of organic salsa and a squirt of lime.  Not a bad easy treat for a lazy Saturday afternoon lunch.

How about your New Year?  How is life unfolding?  Any great discoveries or healthy adventures to share?  It’s always great to hear from you!

 

Merry Christmas Thai-Style

24 Dec

It’s a warm balmy almost Christmas here in Chiang Mai.  It’s the morning of Christmas eve and I am lounging in my bed reveling in my end of the quarter relaxation/exhaustion.  I have to admit I was a little… surprised.. at the Christmas blow-out, extravaganza put on my school.  If you don’t know, I work at a Thai school in Chiang Mai that hosts over 6,000 students.  It is Christian in nature, founded by missionaries, in the midst of a very buddhist country with a mostly buddhist student population.  Despite the Buddhist ways of this country, it has to be said that Christmas, in one form or another, has made its way to Thailand.  And without question, it has arrived in full decadent Thai splendor here at my school.DaraChristmasTrees

We started off with a little department Christmas party.  Innocent enough.  A little gift giving.  A little eating.  A few days later they upped the ante as our foreign teacher staff (about 30 or so) was invited… hmmm, perhaps strongly encouraged…  to sing a Christmas carol at the evening service celebration.  It was painless enough.  A little “Silent Night” with some smiling and candle lighting.  We made it virtually unscathed and the Christmas evening celebration continued.

After the Thai service was complete, we continued on to dinner.  There was a full stage and tables set up under the stars and a blast of karoke-style performances and dancing.  I have to acknowledge that the speaker system set up right by our table that night was… a little loud…as is the tendency here and was a bit overwhelming for my perhaps less indoctrinated Western ears. The evening continued… a feast of food served, a giant raffle with maybe hundreds of presents and prizes given away to staff. The raffle went on for hours. The trick is if you are not present, you don’t win your prize.  And there were big prizes like televisions and a refrigerator. I was fortunate to win a modest envelop of cash early in the evening which freed me up for a not-too-late Christmas celebration escape.

ChristmasbandAnd the celebration continues… the last day of school, December 23, began with a school-wide ceremony/presentation in the center of campus eventually followed by the annual Christmas parade.  It was innocent enough.  Some students were dressed up in costumes and marched around the campus.  We, the foreign staff also marched in the parade throwing candy to more than enthusiastic children.

After the parade we were invited to join our classrooms where they had a little Christmas party with their homeroom teacher. They ate pizza and cookies and candy and played while we spent a little more Christmas time together.  Some students sweetly presented gifts as the celebration continued.

I have to admit it was a bit of fun… and it was A LOT of Christmas.  Shockingly so. I had to laugh at the extremity of it.  Just the previous year I was in Vienna, Austria,  a Catholic country known for its celebration of Christmas.  And while, no one does Christmas like Vienna, I have to say this enthusiastic school nestled in the northlands of this Buddhist country gave Vienna a run for their money….in their own Thai style and fashion, of course.darachristmas

When our responsibilities as foreign teachers were complete for the day,  the campus continued to rock in Christmas celebration. There was a full on Christmas blast in the kindergarden area of campus, more games and celebration until… at last… the day was complete.  Ah.

I happily wrapped up my Christmas self and made my way home.  I packed up the quarter’s work in preparation for a new term to soon begin and sighed a bit of relief.

And now, I have a wonderful glorious break.  Not a bad little sprawl of about 10 days or so.  Ten days that I plan to enjoy, restore, relax.  And then January 4th, we do it all again.  But not for long as the Thai school year is quickly slipping by coming to completion.

And so from my state of post-Christmas celebration but pre-Christmas exhaustion, I am wishing you a big Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Thailand.  May it truly be a time of enthusiasm, grace, and peace in your world wherever you may be.

 

All is well

23 Aug

It’s a hot-ish Sunday afternoon.  I am tucked in the comfort of my room for one, my smallish “home” on campus, appreciating the golden silence.

Silence is not something that comes easily here, a bustling campus of 6000+ students from pre-kindergarden through high school, a campus often filled with after-school and weekend activities.  But today there is a distinguishable crispness to the silence that I can’t help but enjoy.

I think in part the silence is due to Friday’s festivities, Sports Day.  A much-loved day filled with cheering, cheerleading, and racing competitions, the entire school was peaked with excitement.  With so many students, they don’t all fit on campus for the event.  The younger students stayed here for their celebration, and the middle and high schools went separately to different stadiums located in Chiang Mai.

Sportsday

Sports day is quite a big deal and students spent weeks preparing their cheers and parade.  While the heat of the day was bit much for this teacher, it didn’t seem to damper the spirits and enthusiasm of the students.

And here I am just a few days later basking in the quiet.  Kind of like the weekend after Mardi Gras.  It seems folks are taking a break.

Being in Chiang Mai and teaching here brings out many of the joys and challenges of living and working in a foreign country.  Thailand is by far the most “different” culture I have lived in so far with its combination of flow and freedom partnered paradoxically with a flavor of obedience and tradition.  There is an unexpected combination of both disregard for law and the unpredictable fervent use of laws which it seems are always changing. That said… in many ways I like it here and… I am also challenged by it which is part of what keeps life interesting.

Life in the classroom is no different.  My classes are filled with bright, spirited enthusiastic students.  Of the more than 200 students I teach in total, I can hardly think of a one that I don’t like and appreciate in some way. There is a fun, joy and playfulness to school life here and a surprising amount of independence for the students throughout the course of the day.

The flip side of this that pushes and pulls at my more serious tendencies and my desire for more rule and order is the lighthearted approach to learning.  School it seems is more “fun” and learning perhaps is secondary.  With much of this I too can be lighthearted and go with the flow but have to admit it can be disheartening when time and time again I see an enthusiastic, bright-eyed student come to say hello.  When I ask them “How are you…” quite often I get a panicked look on their face and a response of… “my name is…..”  or  “I am … years old.”  And so it goes.

This enthusiasm also burns through classroom behavior.  The students in my classes are not “bad” in any way. They don’t have poor attitudes with me or consistently cause problems.  But they do get excited beyond decibels that I have ever experienced before and they do like to talk and this frequently freely flies throughout the class.  After being here for nearly four months, I have done some nips and tucks in my classroom management strategies and have experienced some success and improvement.  But there is an element of behavior that I believe is mostly cultural that runs free in the classroom.  At times the sheer level of noise is a challenge for me or speaking in a class where the students have a tendency to converse loudly and freely to one another while I am talking.  I am practicing giving up my “shoulds” about how things should be and doing my best to manage what I can in the classroom, tune into the way things are here and ride the wave.  And so the journey and the learning continues…

Thailand has received some international attention lately for the unexpected and devastating bombing in Bangkok.  I have kept an eye on the news of late paying attention for updates and new information that would offer a reliable hint to the motivation and perhaps larger climate here in Thailand.  As I am in the north of Thailand, I feel geographically removed from any imminent danger and can’t help but continue to feel safe in Chiang Mai.  As I learned from my time in South Korea, when unrest arises it is best to stay calm, pay attention, and keep an eye on the local response to the circumstances.  But for me at this time in Chiang Mai, all is well.

Thanks for reading!  It’s always great to hear from you!

 

 

Classes Begin!

24 May

Well, it happened.  The first week of classes has come… and gone.  While many teachers around the world are getting ready for their summer break, here in Thailand we are just getting started.

Students

A Sea of New Faces Preparing for School

I am teaching English at a LARGE (6,000 plus students) elementary, middle and high school in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  As part of their Native English teaching program, I teach an assortment of classes, primarily 4th grade with some 6th, to a mostly attentive group of 30 – 40+ students per class.  While many of the classrooms where I teach have no air conditioning and the weather here is a bit… warm… just the same I am doing alright!

I am surprised here in a sea of Thai faces how smooth everything seems to run.  The students, for the most part, seem to know what they need to do and do their own thing.  And while kids will be kids anywhere in the world, generally there seems to be a good bunch here.

shoppingchiangmai

A snapshot of the scene while doing a little shopping in busy Chiang Mai.

I am learning a bit more about the ins and outs of Thai culture as I continue to weave my way into life and work.  I have learned for example that hardly anything is “set in stone”.  What may cost one person 200 baht can cost the next person 300, or even 150 if you are willing to negotiate.  While there is a conservative bend in Northern Thailand, there is still an inescapable sense of something like freedom that permeates the scene.  Even here at school, I was surprised to see when class is out, there is no teacher who stays and monitors the students.  They are left there on their own.  When the teacher leaves, they do go a little bit wild in an innocent childlike sort of way but also make their way to lunch and recess so far without little to no drama.  One class I peeked in on at the end of the day was like a busy group of elves, sweeping the floors and putting away desks.

You can’t escape the incredible sense of service that is here in Chiang Mai and I imagine throughout Thailand.  At first it was a little off-putting when I went to the store to see a friendly Thai face standing right there ready to be of assistance.  I have to admit I tried once or twice to throw them off my trail, hiding below the shelves in my independent American way.  But in the end, I surrendered. I let them carry my purchase. I let them show me the matching sheet set.  Once there was even a second sales assistant who showed up bright-eyed and smiling with a cart for the convenient carrying of my possible purchase.

This same sense of service can be seen here in the classroom.  I have one class where at the end the boys race to the desk to see who gets to carry my things back to the classroom.  It is really adorable. I walk back to the office sometimes with as many as three loyal helpers dutifully carrying my excess things.

My adaptation is not without frustrations of course, the challenge sometimes found in doing the simplest of things in a foreign land.  But overall this transition is ushered in with a good feeling.

I am at home now for the evening after a productive but sweaty afternoon.  It is nearly 6:30pm and the outdoor orchestra has begun with the wide assortment of crazy noise-making insects and birds. Soon, week two of teaching will commence.

Good-bye for now from Chiang Mai, a place so far of new beginnings, mild adventures and entertaining adjustments.

 

Wild World

14 May

Well, it’s been quite a transformation…. switching from the cooler temperatures and refined structures of Vienna to the infernal heat and wild, wild world of Chiang Mai.   The land of goulash and mass public transportation has given way to the world of fresh mangos and scooter rides for three. Scooters

I am slowly and happily assimilating here to my teaching job and tiny budding life in Chiang Mai. I am starting to grow accustomed to the wild nature of this city affectionately called by my new boss “a hot mess.” My new and developing cultural affinity did not come without a few bucks and snarls. But after a few days my mind, body and being started to settle down and began to be with that which I am coming to know… is Thailand.

In Thailand, I have a resident gecko in my room. I think he lives in my air conditioning. He mostly shows his face when I have just arrived home… startled by the unexpected visitor. Geckos are my friend I am told because they eat many of the other creatures that you really don’t want in your room. After just over a week I am starting to relax as they scamper the walls and hallways of the residence where I live.

I have heard stories of folks living in areas surrounding Chiang Mai encountering an 8 foot long snake and getting bit by a scorpion. I have been told of the village cobra catcher and couldn’t help but notice the snake repellant for sale at my local grocer. I have always considered myself a nature girl, but alas, I am reconsidering my claim.

RimpingGroceryAmidst the wildness of Chiang Mai, I am comforted by the civility of its “western” creature comforts like Rimping, a quality grocery store chain where I have found organic products, unsweetened peanut butter and familiar brands including Amy’s and Bragg’s. After a successful shop, I was innocently exhilarated by my ride home through the narrow back streets of the city courtesy of a local tuk tuk driver.

At work we are preparing for our students who will arrive next week. Our “modest” campus of 8,000 students will soon be flooded with new faces and energy. In Thailand the school year begins in May, and so as many teachers, parents and students around the world are coasting into summer we are just beginning.

So far I am content in my new “home” on campus, a mostly quiet haven so far aside from the symphony of squawking birds and assorted insects that crescendos at sunrise and sunset as well as the neighboring band (I think perhaps church related…) that likes to start their celebration at 8:30am on Sundays.CampusView

For tonight all is well. My eyes still grow sleepy a bit early as the adjustment, heat and work week are still making a claim on my energy. Friday has come with the blink of an eye and soon it will be the weekend and then the first day of school. While I feel good about being here and the job ahead, I must admit I still have the first day of school jitters.

As night comes fully here, the only sound I hear is the quiet purring of my air conditioner, a much appreciated companion as it whirrs in a gentle 28 degrees C (82 degrees F)… a notable break from the balmy 35 degrees C (95 degrees F) outside my window. Even so, my body has a natural bend for the heat and heaves a sigh of relief being greeted by its thick tropical ways.

Good night for now as I find myself amazingly and surprisingly beginning yet another international chapter… in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Simple Summer Pleasures

17 Jul

It’s the end of the day on Thursday, the last day of my “weekend” as I prepare to begin a new work week.  It’s been a somewhat relaxing weekend filled with the many familiar rhythms I have become acquainted with in my time in South Korea – the 2220 bus that takes me from English Village directly to Seoul; shopping for friendly and familiar food at2200 bus the foreign markets in Itaewon; riding the subway in Seoul while watching the sea of Korean faces mesmerized by their smart phones.  These are some of the things that have become the simple landscape of my life here in Korea.

I was thinking today that, aside from a few trips home, I have not lived in the United States for more than three years now.  That is amazing to me and it’s hard to believe it is true.  The other day I Skyped home to chat with my family and had the pleasure of receiving questions about being in Korea from my four very engaged nephews.  “What are the kids like in South Korea?” and “Why do they want to learn English?” were some of the sea of questions.  It was fun for me that they were interested and I was grateful that I could share this with them.

When I started this journey just over three years ago, buying a ticket to Germany felt like buying a ticket to the moon. Even still, a few years later buying a ticket to Korea felt like I was preparing to… I don’t know… travel through time.  While in earnest my international life has been quite modest, I am grateful for the “normalness” of it that has started to sink in over the years.  Buying or considering buying a ticket to visit a new country, while still exciting and sometimes a bit scary for me, is also something that feels totally available and accessible to me.  That is new.  And for that, I am grateful.

Don’t get me wrong, I do still “wonder” when I will return to the States and sometimes wish to swim in more familiar waters.  Occasionally I miss the accessibility I feel in the States simply because I can speak the language and read the street signs. But for now, I continue with my international journey.

My day today consisted of a quick trip to Seoul and some simple pleasures in the summer heat.  A little grocery shopping in Itaewon and also a little shoe shopping. The shoe shopping part did not take long as the shoes I liked were not available for my size 8 American feet. Disheartening… but not unusual in Korea.

I also treated myself to a therapeutic massage… doing my best to ease and tend to the tension I tend to carry with great commitment.  I went to a new place today called Create Wellness on the main strip in Itaewon.  My American conditioning is still disheartened when I walk into an office on a balmy summer afternoon and there is no air conditioning.  Even so, the staff was kind and friendly and the massage was excellent and my body heaved a sigh of relief as I exited the office.  I then easily made my way back to Paju and English Village.

We have a hearty handful of new teachers arriving lately at English Village.  As we haven’t hired in a while, most of the teachers here have been at English Village at least a year or longer.  It is good to have some new faces and energy around.  I see many of them observing with a timid or sceptic’s eye, adjusting to their new environment.  In many ways, English Village is a strange slice of life and it can take some time to adapt to its ways.

Good night for now from the balmy (but not yet rainy) lands of Paju English Village.  Thanks for reading and as you know, it’s always good to hear from you!

 

 

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