Tag Archives: Chiang Mai

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!!

Easy-Breezy

21 Feb

Ah, it’s a great Sunday afternoon.  After a super-busy week filled with… so many speaking tests… it feels really good to have some down time.  My apartment is not far from the Ping River, so my windows are open and I am enjoying a warm, yet luxurious breeze flowing through the room. This Sunday is especially luxurious because Monday is a holiday and I colorsofthailandhave a three-day weekend.  Ah, what a thrill.  Sunday is really a different day when the hustle and bustle of the workweek hasn’t started to creep in. And for that, I am grateful.

Things are still moving along at work getting closer and closer to the finale. With an extra day to relax, I feel I am doing a pretty good job of enjoying where I am while still being poignantly aware of the change and transition on the horizon.

As we shift away from “cold season,” the most “friendly” time of year to be in Chiang Mai, and (hopefully) slowly eek into hot season, the trees are starting to brim with color.  Strangely enough, some trees leaves are changing color and falling from the trees, sort of like autumn, while others are beginning to blossom and explode with color.  This is undeniably a colorful country reflected not only in the blossoms on the trees, but in the colors the people wear and the things they create.  The students where I teach easily sway into vibrant creativity and I am often amazed by the things they create.

IsitFall?

I had a typical Sunday morning… which lately has included a regular trip to the JJs farmers market.  This market, while not fully organic, is one of the higher quality markets in town.  I’ve come to enjoy my regular trips there and the simple pleasures of purchasing avocados and other favorites from local farmers.  After the market I made my way to my favorite Rimping grocery store and then a few practical purchase at the local Tesco/Lotus store.  Ever the American, I can’t deny I get a secret pleasure from such periodic shopping diversions…even for the simplest of things.  My big purchase for the day was a new fan, a necessary item with the heat starting to turn up.

My thoughts are filled with many of the practical things I must do before I leave.  Admittedly, I like closure… and I like the process of organizing myself and planning as I shift from one location to the next.  I am handling some practical things like going to the dentist, which is a super affordable “treat” (if the dentist can be a treat) here in Thailand.  I am grateful I was turned on to a high quality dental clinic, the Bangkok Hospital Dental Clinic.  It makes a big difference to be assured that I am receiving quality care… in addition to the affordable price.

My big plans for the weekend don’t extend much further than where I am right now.  I am soaking up the slow…  earnestly so glad to be here but also leaning into the upcoming change.

A short week and a lighter load awaits me at work.  In the meantime, I am gratefully and happily here, basking in the added reliable breeze courtesy of my new fan.

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.

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Life in Chiang Mai

17 Jul

It’s a quieter day than usual at the end of my teaching week. It is testing time for students so they are busily (or at least somewhat busily) spending today in a sea of tests. I will meet with my class later today for a 50 minute rendezvous with an end of the quarter English exam.

Life in Chiang Mai continues to be good. Often I enjoy simply being here in the cornucopia of sights, sounds and new experiences. Amidst the sometimes frenzy of activity at school and in Chiang Mai, I also do my best to find some quiet and slow time, a mainstay for me no matter where I am in the world.

Let me tell you a little bit more about the students I teach and my days teaching in Chiang Mai. Many of the classes I teach I assist Thai teachers with their regular English classes. Packed with 40 to 50 moderately interested students, I visit them twice a week to work with them on speaking and listening skills. With a slew of young students, I do my best to stay on my toes and keep them engaged, often turning the lesson of the week into a game or activity. While I have my rewarding days and moments in these classes, it can also be a challenge to teach a large group of students, some of whom would rather be talking with their friends and likely don’t understand what I am saying. But more often than not, the student’s sweet faces and enthusiastic screams of “Teacher Teresa” from across campus make up for the challenges of the day.

I also teach a more focused English class where I am the main teacher and we meet five days a week. These classes are smaller and, gratefully, air-conditioned.  This is my first experience being more of a traditional classroom teacher tending to things like homework, grades and exams. School life is different here in Thailand.  While my class is filled with good kids, it seems there is a more laid back and playful attitude towards school here. At the end of the day, I just to my best to be of service to them and also go with the flow of the priorities of local culture.

Recently a friend made his way through Chiang Mai and we had the opportunity to connect and explore a bit of the city. One of the highlights of the time was a visit to an elephant sanctuary. In theory an elephant sanctuary is a place where elephants who have been abandoned or abused can go as a place of refuge. I am told there is a history of elephants being given as gifts in Southeast Asia which has in part contributed to the neglected elephant population. While you can find many places to see elephants in Thailand, not all of them are created equal. We elected to go someplace that treated them a bit more humanely and let them, within the confines of captivity, mostly be themselves as elephants… no brutal training or special “tricks”. For the most part I found the park we visited to be a humane and descent establishment with just one or two things said that slightly raised my eyebrows.

And what an unexpected opportunity – to be close to, connect with and ride an elephant. It was a bit of a surreal experience… first seeing them and feeding them and then in no time at all being quickly shown and invited to hop on to give it a try.

We spent a modest day there and it was the perfect balance of relaxation and engagement with the elephants. After we fed and learned to ride we took a lunch break. Next, the highlight of the day, we were taken to “meet our elephants,” climb aboard and take a few spins around the grounds.

My friend and I “shared” an elephant, as did the other guests on our mini-elephant trek. We took turns with one person riding on the neck and the other on the back. Our elephant’s name was Mee-nah. She was a big beautiful elephant with a great temperament. Without hesitation, she steadfastly made way with her large body through the wooded terrain, up a few hills.

At the end of the trek the elephants were led by their keepers into the water for a little refreshment. And next we were invited to join them, given brushes and buckets to do a little bathing. My first thought, as any good American girl might think was “what is in that water… and is it safe to get in there?” But after a good minute or two of hesitation… I just got over it and jumped in the water to join in the fun.

At the end of our journey we enjoyed checking out the many pictures they took along the way plus a refreshing lounge in their “hammock garden.” Here are a few pics from the day.

And now, back to the land of teaching.  I am tucked away in my room on campus preparing for my early afternoon test.  I can hear the lunch time screams of the neighboring kindergarden building.  I am finding myself happy for a quieter Friday and the weekend ahead.

 

 

Getting Around Chiang Mai

14 Jun

The conversation often starts something like this… as I approach the red truck, window rolling down and driver, still surprisingly to me, sitting on the right side of the truck… I offer my destination. “Dara” I say. I get a look of uncertainty. I try again, this time adjusting my pronunciation. “Da-RA?” Still a blank look. One more time, this time the “r” I say more like an “l”. “Dala” I offer. Hmmm… getting closer. The driver then says with a local accent the name of my destination… which to me doesn’t sound much different from what I attempted to say. With a still a hint of confusion but some confirmation I hop in the back of the truck to (hopefully) make my way home.

Dara is the name of the school where I teach, named after a Chiang Mai princess. When I leave the red gates of the Dara campus, I typically turn to the red trucks called songtao’s for my transportation. I am not yet ready to get on a scooter, the transportation of choice in Chiang Mai. So for now for me to get around town I rely on songtao’s and tuk-tuks. A tuk-tuk is essentially a motorbike with an open-air carriage for passengers and functions more like a taxi.  A songtao is less expensive than a tuk-tuk and may shuttle a handful of people typically taking you to your general destination if he is going your way.

Riding in a songtao is not your typical taxi ride. The journey often begins with a negotiation… how much? I am developing a sense of the ins and outs of the price of a songtao ride which in part seems to be determined by: How hot it is outside? Is it raining? Do you have groceries in your hand? Is it nighttime? And also quite simply does the driver feel like taking you?  All of which can increase the cost of the ride. But more often then not it is a simple 20 baht from my school to the center of town, less than a US dollar. After successful communication and negotiation, you hop in the covered back of the truck, typically with a bench on each side for seating, and relax and enjoy the diesel fumes. The other day I hopped in the back of the truck and met a friendly Thai woman transporting among other things her bird in a cage. And so is the colorful world of Chiang Mai.

scooterboyChiang Mai isn’t much of a walking town. Where I live just a few kilometers outside of the heart of the city, sidewalks are typically lined with food stands and goods for sale edging out any hope for pedestrians. I am frequently the lone walker navigating the wrinkled sidewalks. Other teachers tell me that people don’t like to walk in Chiang Mai and that they would take their scooters to go literally to the place next door. I have learned in the current heat of the day, on the edge of the hot season coming into the wet season, it is just a ridiculous idea to walk someplace. I mean it is just crazy hot. I have learned this from experience. Ugh.

Not long ago I was out and about on the opposite side of town on a weekday evening. It wasn’t too late, but after a busy day of teaching it was time to head home. Then it started to rain. We caught a tuk-tuk for an easy ride home. After a bit of negotiation, we hopped in and our tuk-tuk driver put it into high gear and headed for the superhighway. I was in a bit of a shock to be thrust into high speed riding in the rain on this main thorough-way home. After I got over my initial shock and felt confident that I wasn’t going to fall out of the vehicle, I have to admit, it was a bit of a thrill.

chiangmaiToday I joined a “meet-up” group in a walking tour of the old town of Chiang Mai.  It was great to connect with new faces and get more familiar with the city. Afterwards, we had a little lunch at a local Thai eatery called Cooking Love.  Known for their healthy, clean food and recipes, it was a true delight when I mentioned I couldn’t have sugar and what could I eat on the menu his response was “anything.”  They would just leave it out.  Ah, happy Thai food eating for me!!

It is Sunday evening here and I am in the downstairs common area swatting away mosquitos and trying to suck up a little wifi that does not yet make it to my room. The daytime heat is fading away and it seems some rain is blowing in. The evening assortment of cackling insects and creatures have started their nightly serenade. I am here, still getting to know but enjoying the hot mess of Chiang Mai and her world of crazy contradictions.

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.

 

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