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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.

 

 

 

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.

 

“Home” for the Holidays

12 Dec

Greetings from Chiang Mai!  It’s been a while since I’ve written.  It’s been a strange and somewhat busy and challenging time for me these past weeks. Life, school and teaching keep buzzing by and I… I just had to take a break, or step back or something.  It seems that life is moving and changing in important ways and I am just doing my best just to roll with the waves.

I’ve had one big shift in my life.  I took a leap and moved off campus.  If you didn’t know, for the past 7 months I have been living on the campus where I teach.  In many ways this has been great.  It provided a safe place to land and a good place of support.  But as the months went on I started gettin’ that itch… for something a little different.  I started snooping around on-line sites looking at the many condo listings available.  I had a particular list of desires that, for the most part I wasn’t willing to compromise on.  I didn’t give up and finally… with the help of Indigo Chiang Mai Real Estate… I found something that I am really happy with. Hooray!

In truth, when push came to shove, moving off campus was a little daunting for me… leaving the comfort and security of the mother ship.  It was the quickest move I’ve ever had.  With a friend and her car to help, it literally took us about ten minutes to move all of my stuff in.  Gypsy life has its benefits.

A bathtub!

A bathtub!

After living in a great, but small room on campus with only a community kitchen downstairs… there are many delights I am now experiencing in my new space.  I have a kitchen!  It’s not fancy, but there’s a sink and a stove and it’s stocked with plenty of dishes and pans. This is not typical in Chiang Mai budget accommodations. It’s really great to cook in the comfort of my own space again. Also I have tons of great light! Which is wonderful since my campus room, while snug and private, was so dark that even my plant couldn’t survive in there. I had to put him out in the hall to give him any hope of receiving some real sunlight.  This had me thinking, if my plant couldn’t live in that dark room… imagine the impact it had on me!  Additionally, I now have a bathtub.  Not an easy thing to find in Chiang Mai…  and it’s not some scrawny bathtub, but a real bathtub where I can easily stretch out my legs.  Yippee!!

My happy plant hanging out near the sunshine

My happy plant hanging out near the sunshine

My plant and I are now both happy.  It was funny to notice how nervous I was moving out on my own.  But when I thought about it I realized that it has been about ten years since I last rented an apartment on my own. Over my past 5 years of international living, this is the first time I have rented a place and lived on my own.  So a new experience for me!  The last apartment that I rented “all by myself” was my modest but appreciated basement apartment that I departed suddenly with the flooding of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Since then I have lived with another, rented space in someone’s home, house-sat, visited and cohabitated… in a wide array of circumstances and locations.  I must say, it’s a nice treat to have a little corner of my own for a bit.

Living the "high" life... thankfully, on the 2nd floor

Living the “high” life… thankfully, on the 2nd floor

I am in one of the many high-rise condos flooding the city of Chiang Mai.  It is a little on the outskirts of town, quiet and laid back.  As I am… afraid of heights…. I am happy to say that I am on the 2nd floor.  A few days ago I visited someone who lives on the top, 15th floor.  He has sort of the “penthouse” apartment.  To get to his space you pass through a glass door onto an open air balcony before entering the apartment.  Just this little passage was enough to send my heart racing.  “Good thing I am on the 2nd floor” I thought!

At school we are now wrapping up the 3rd quarter.  It’s breezed on by with many holidays and activities flooding the schedule.  I have done my best to keep my go with the flow attitude required for any happiness or sanity in Thailand.  This week we are finishing up oral exams and the end of the week students will take their final test.  After tests we have just a few days of classes filled with some holiday celebrations until, happily, we are free for a healthy break.  Yes!

Some of my beautiful students all dressed up for a traditional dance

My beautiful students all dressed up for a traditional dance

Before you know it, the school year will be complete. Students take their end-of-the-year tests in first days of March.  Teachers stick around for a few weeks after to complete some administrative work… and then we are finished in mid-March!

It’s hard to believe the holidays are just around the corner.  I see pictures of folks in sweaters and scarves on Facebook and remind myself… oh, that’s right… it’s December.  While evenings and mornings are a bit cooler now, the days still typically get up into the high 80s or low 90s at mid-day.  But the terrible heat has softened quite a bit and truthfully the weather now feels just great.

With that, I will say good-bye for now.  I am enjoying a leisurely Saturday afternoon in my light, open space.  With the holidays coming, I am feeling grateful for a little “home” of my own.  How are these times and holidays unfolding for you? It’s always great to hear from you!

Featured image:  The lanterns lighting up the sky from the beautiful full moon celebration Loy Krathong.  It’s celebrated on November 25 and a highlight of the holiday season in Thailand.  It was a beautiful sight to see!

Between a Backpacker and an Expat

16 Oct

It’s not exactly a rock and a hard place, but when it comes to my 40-something self living in Chiang Mai , I am definitely caught between a backpacker and an expat. I am a bit of an odd demographic here. There is a bountiful farang (the Thai word for foreigner) community and culture here with a bevy of condos blossoming to prove it.  For the most part you have your young 20-something backpackers, exploring the world post-college.  Some of them are here teaching English, others just passing through. Then you have your expat community — retirees from western cultures around the globe here to make the most out of their retirement money and experience.  Some expats have lived in Chiang Mai for decades, before the injection of western culture and increased tourism giving rise to cars and condos, traffic and pollution.

Chiang Mai

Growing Chiang Mai

And then there’s me.  The 40-something.  I am somewhat of a novelty here amongst farangs in Chiang Mai. Generally speaking, 40 somethings aren’t out roaming the globe and, for the most part, they aren’t living in Chiang Mai.  They are perhaps at home with their families, or mid-career building towards retirement – at which point maybe they will retire in Chiang Mai.  But not me.  Here I am nearing my fifth year of international living.  And with all its bounty and blessings, undoubtedly I face my times of discouragement, loneliness, and feeling disconnected.

But today I am sitting in a lovely studio condo, on a comfy bed dressed in white sheets and comforter with the coolish air and light coming in as the mountains of Chiang Mai are outstretched before me.  I am on just a bit of a break.  A brief escape to the other side of town and a venture away from my regular room and life on the campus where I live and work.  Just this little bit of time and space is… restoring.  This small slice of privacy and comfort in the midst of the bustle of Chiang Mai’s Nimmanhaemin Road and the mountains just outside my window is, well, at least a bit of the pleasure of this journey and an earnest delight.

A Room with a View

My View!

As I explore this area of town I continue to wander around on foot, one of the few doing so in the city.  It is not a walking community.  The only other company I tend to have in my walking ways are periodic tourists and the monks, found in abundance here dressed in orange robes, occasionally making their way from one place to the next.  At least part of the reason no one walks here is because… it’s really hot.  The other day I was at the bank, not a far stretch away from where I live.  I accidentally forgot my wallet and had to leave, walk home and walk back only to return sweaty and steamy from the reasonably short journey.  It may not seem that hot out for the day, but when you actually begin to move… that’s when the reality of the heat sets in.  I choose not to ride a motor bike for now in part for safety reasons.  But the truth is, walking is not a guarantee either.  Sidewalks are either non-existent or mostly occupied by street vendors of all shapes and sizes.  It’s not unusual to have to weave through dips, cracks and potholes or walk along the side of the road cautiously sharing space with the motorbikes buzzing by.

My Walking Companions the Monks

The Monks – My Walking Companions

Of course being here is not without it’s charms.  Not long ago I joined a meet-up group and we headed up to the near-by and much beloved Doi-Suthep mountain to its revered temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Historically and even today folks pilgrimage on foot up the mountain, passing through the 5 stages of enlightenment along the way.  We, however, took the accelerated route and cruised comfortably in an air-conditioned Honda sedan.  As a regular traveler in the back of songthaews and tuk tuks, I have a new appreciation for the modern automobile with its little luxuries like seat belts and was grateful for the ride. We skipped past a few stages of enlightenment, hitting only the highlights, and without breaking a sweat we arrived at the end of our journey, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

The Road To Doi Suthep

The Road to Doi Suthep

 

Enchanted Break

Enchanted Break

 

View on the Way to Doi Suthep

 

On the Way to Doi Suthep

On the Way to Doi Suthep

 

We arrived initially greeted by the entourage of vendors selling their foods, crafts and wares to interested tourists.  Before entering I had to rent a skirt as I forgot and wore shorts, which is not acceptable when visiting the temples.  We took a quick walk in and I was… enchanted and appreciative of being there.  Gold and bounty and beauty.  Reverence and something honorable, pristine and truly lovely… even amidst of the bustle of the crowd.  We wandered around the inside of the temple. I took a moment to get a blessing from one of the monks as he tied a string around my wrist like a bracelet.  We took in the scenery overlooking Chiang Mai.

Stairs Doi Suthep

300 Steps to Doi Suthep

 

InsideDoiSuthep

Inside the Temple

 

InsideTemple2

Inside the Temple

 

templeview

At Doi Suthep

 

ViewDoiSuthep

The View from Doi Suthep

Soon it was time to leave and we quickly shuffled back down the mountain and enjoyed lunch together.  I was thrilled at our lunch location which was The Royal Project Restaurant.  The Royal Project is the monarchy’s special collection of organic food and product, sold in select stores and used to prepare food for the restaurant.  I always appreciate quality food and with the help of my Thai host was able to order a healthy meal that worked for me.  We also took a quick peek in the on-site market featuring Royal Project products.  I purchased just a few things including Butterfly Pea Tea made from a local flower.  When brewed it is a dark purple and our host said he drinks it every day for his health.

Inside the Royal Project Restaurant

Inside the Royal Project Restaurant

 

Dining at the Royal Project.

Dining at the Royal Project.

I have just a few more days of break before returning to school and work next week.  I am doing my best to soak up the rest and relaxation, the mountains and the quite before resubmerged in the land of 6,000+ students.

How about you?  Backpackers, retirees and in-betweeners alike, what stories do you have to tell?  It’s always good to hear from you!

Good-bye for now from my mountain-side mini-break!

 

 

 

 

 

This is Thailand

17 Sep

It’s been a not too busy workday, thankfully nearing the end of the week. We are closing in on the end of the semester in Thailand and will soon enjoy a well-deserved break.  As you may have noticed, the school year in Thailand starts at the beginning of May, still thickly entrenched in hot season.  It then cruises on through rainy season (still hot, but some relief with the rain) until the end of September.  We then get a few weeks hiatus until we come back to do it all again.

While it seems the teachers are more weary and the students more distracted, the end of the semester has brought with it a few unexpected but appreciated breaks.  A class cancelation here, an unexpected day off there. I am told the school where I teach, while well-respected, is known as “the fun school.”  In some countries this may not be the best of reputations… but in Thailand, with its loose ways and less serious bend towards academics, it seems it is a good thing.  It is not unusual to see traditionally dressed students adorned in make-up and flowers missing class for a dance rehearsal or a whole day of class cancelations for a celebration or event.

There is a phrase that I have heard many times from other foreigners living in Thailand.  It casually goes… “well… this is Thailand…(T.I.T.)”  And in this phrase, especially if you’ve spent any time here, you begin to understand or at least accept its wavy ways.  At times anything goes and the one thing you can count on is the unexpected. It’s not unusual to find a crooked mismatch of information and reality that to the “foreign western mind” might insight… frustration.  But the lesson is… to go with the flow… and to “get”… even if you don’t really get it… that… well “this is Thailand…”

A simple example of this is a Saturday afternoon just a few weeks ago.  The foreign elementary teachers, myself included, worked a hard, hot Saturday at an English camp for select students.  After a decent, but undeniably hot and funky day of work, we returned to our on-campus abodes only the find… there was no running water.  If ever there was a time that I wanted running water, coated by a full layer of grime and sweat from the day, it was then.  But you know what… this is Thailand.  And, this happens… and has happened on several occasions.  The water goes out, electricity, wifi… you name it.  The trick is to try not to let it get to you… and go with the flow.

In this circumstance… we did just that.  Our room water may have been off, but mother nature thankfully was providing us with a shower of her own.  While many things are unreliable in Thailand, during rainy season an afternoon shower is something you can often count on.  With the “faucet” turned on, I took my showering outside and just stood (fully clothed, mind you) in the rain and let the water cool me down, rinse me off.  I was soon joined by other teachers, a few attempting to actually shampoo their hair in the rain… which had a few complications of its own.  But we did it… and in truth, while definitely not what I would have “wanted” or planned… it was really kind of freeing and refreshing and set me in a better place for the rest of the day.

It’s mid-September and the idea is more fully and easily settling in that… Thailand is hot.  I was told before arriving that it was “summer here all year long”… but I didn’t really get it.  Arriving in May to a shockingly stifling heat, I was relieved when the rainy season crept it.  With a few cooler days, I innocently thought that heat was over.  But, while it’s much better now then when I arrived in May, a steamy morning or hot afternoon is never far away.

I recently taught “seasons” as a lesson for one of my classes.  It was worthwhile to note that Thai students have no experience of the four seasons.  While “spring, summer, winter and fall” may be the seasons to “us” and the ones taught in the English books… here in Thailand they know them as hot season, rainy season, and cold season.  The four seasons are really just a concept we teach them about.  Speaking of which, did you know that in Thailand it’s the year 2558?… Their calendar is based on Buddhism and is known as B.E. which stands for Buddha Era.

Wow, well here I am truly a world away.  Not without my western comforts of course.  A fancy mall and movie theater down the street, air conditioning in my room where I stay, near western quality grocery stores.  The internet too brings a good dose of “home” wherever I am in the world.  But still, as I wander around this busy campus where I work and live I am undeniably a world away.  With my sometimes frantic western ways, it’s still at least a little surprise to see the many easy smiling faces of the house keepers and other staff riding their bicycles around campus while I am often lost in my own thoughts or hurried business.  A lesson to learn? Perhaps….and Indeed.

With that said, how are things in whatever hemisphere you are occupying?  It’s always good to hear from you!

So long for now from my quiet campus home.  I am soaking in some of my favorite “western comforts” until I get up and do it all again tomorrow!

 

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!

 

 

Krabi Escape

12 Aug

It’s not everyday that your employer takes you on a luxury beach vacation.  For reasons not totally clear to me,  my modest yet generous school has a tradition of once a year taking their “foreign” (that’s me, the foreigner) staff on a great outing.  Typically it’s not just any outing, but to one of Thailand’s best locations. They put us up in an excellent hotel and feed us well.

This year’s destination was Krabi.  Located in the Southern part of Thailand not far from Phuket, we escaped the joys and pains of teaching life for a few days of beach bliss.

Beaches of Krabi

Our journey notably began around 5am.  A group of sleepy teachers collected for our ride to the airport.  Upon seeing our “coach” for the journey, we wondered in the dark morning hours… what is it? Is it a garbage truck?  It turns out our transportation was a vehicle typically used to transport prisoners.  And so …we loaded in back on the rows of benches and held on for our bumpy ride to the airport.

A quick 2+hours later, we arrived in Krabi.  I was impressed with how smoothly our staff managed to get a herd of sleepy travelers checked in, on and off of an airplane.  In Krabi, we were met by our tour guides, boarded our bus and were soon on our way.

The first stop was to nearby Talin Bay for a little flat water kayaking.  Raised a “Missouri girl” filled with summers of river canoe trips, I happily climbed aboard for a little kayaking adventure. My partner for the journey was Jess, a fellow teacher and “worthy” paddling companion.  We headed through the open waters and soon began the twisty journey through more intimate waterways.  It was fun to weave and bend through the turns, mostly avoiding invading trees and other obstacles.  As skilled as we were, we only wandered away from the group and got lost once… in turn leading a whole array of other kayaking teachers down a false path.  But in no time, we were turned around, rearranged and once again correctly on our way.

Kayaking in Krabi

Next we collected in the waters for our “group crab release.”  In truth I am not totally clear about this part.  It seems there is a shortage of crabs in the area where we kayaked and our tour arranged for us to release crabs back into the water.  It looked like a bit of a bad deal for the crabs.  Each one was tied up individually for a dramatic flair.  We were each handed our individual crab and cut the string releasing it into the water.  That said, to say I didn’t enjoy it would… not be true.

Crab Release

When our winding rowing experience was coming to an end there was nothing to do but head through the open waters and return to land.  My competent companion and I confidently set out for the open waters only to be hit by a wall of wind.  We watched… perhaps one could say….younger, maybe… dare I say stronger… fellow teachers pass us by, digging through the water making their way to the shore.  We rowed with little impact against the more powerful wind and waves.  In our own good time, we made it back.

Soon we were on our way to our hotel.  We quickly arrived at our crisp, inviting destination right on the water. My roommate was former rowing companion, Jess.  In a sea of mostly “20-something” teachers, I was grateful to have a roommate who appreciated the quieter side of beach adventures. The room was welcoming and spacious with an affable balcony and the sea not far in the distance.

Room with a View

The next day I joined members of our Thai administration and the small crew of Chinese teachers from our school for an island adventure.  In the moderately early morning we boarded a speed boat that whisked us away through the collection of neighboring islands.  It was a fresh reminder how good it feels to be on a boat, in the water and feel the fresh sea air.  We arrived at our first island destination with a little time for swimming and sunbathing. It was so GREAT to be back in the ocean.  Ah so good.

The afternoon continued as we hopped from island to island.  We swam.  We snorkeled.  I saw a monkey (note… not very friendly.  Perhaps next time stay away from monkeys…). We ate lunch at a restaurant on a remote island location. And then perfectly delighted with proper exhaustion from a day of swimming, sun and sea air, we raced through the waves back to shore.

snorkeling

When we weren’t perusing the beach or swimming in the ocean, we were… eating.  We were hardly neglected as it seemed one meal had just ended when it was already time to depart to our next dining destination.  We dined on islands, on hilltops overlooking the ocean, in water-filled inlets, and beach-front spots. As most Thai food is filled with sugar, my employer was particularly generous to tend to my no-sugar needs, prearranging specially prepared meal for me in all locations.

One particularly fine meal was the buffet spread at our lovely hotel.  There was freshly barbecued meat of all kinds and vegetables a plenty.  As there was plenty in the buffet I could eat, I asked my employer if I should simply eat off the buffet. She generously replied that I should eat whatever I want.  So I joined my fellow teachers and dove into the lovely food.  One fairly full plate later, one of our wonderful tour guides mentioned that the chef had prepared something especially for me.  Oh dear… I thought and offered my “good trooper” smile.  I was soon served a beautiful dish of food with succulent garlic shrimp, beautiful ginger lemon fish and vegetable soup, and a stunning pad thai dish with a delicate egg served on top.

The food was superb and I did my best to enjoy it.  I shared it with other teachers.  Eventually, I went pleading to other tables in our group as I couldn’t stand to see the lovely food go to waste.  In the end when most of the other teachers had left, I was there… like a child left alone at the dinner table to finish her supper…. trying to make my way through the rest of the fish soup. Ultimately, I simply had to call it quits and gave up.

The next day we had one more luxurious morning at the beach before we packed up our bags and headed out. After we left the hotel, you guessed it… our first stop was lunch.  Soon after we made our way further inland for a quick stop at a tropical forest.  And then… surprise! Another meal.  After some extended bus traveling, we tumbled off the bus only to soon board our airplane for another two hours in flight.

Tropical Forest

It was good to arrive back in Chiang Mai.  I find it’s always good to go away but equally good to come home. We were deposited back to our school campus via our reliable prison transport vehicle.  A good night sleep and sleepy Sunday later, it was back to life as usual.  My unusual usual life that is … in the midst of about 6,000 bustling Thai students… nestled in the spirited city of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

 

 

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