Thursday, November 28, 2013

something to be thankful for.

It seems to be the trend on Facebook for the month of November to post something each day that you’re grateful for. I know this has to do with Thanksgiving and I can appreciate the sentiment but I feel like too often we segregate our gratitude into one month and then neglect it the other 11. Just as we cram all of our Christian charity and goodwill into December. One month is better than none but wouldn’t it be better if we could live with love and gratitude all the time?

That said, I’m going to play the hypocrite for just a moment and give you all my list of 30ish things that I’m grateful for at the moment all in one handy location!
  1. Various forms of technology
    1. The internet-which saves me from being at the mercy of whatever is showing (usually Law and Order) on the Thai channels
    2. Itunes-I was able to bring all of my music (including all the Christmas which I can officially start listening to on Saturday!) in one handy little location
    3. My (borrowed) nook-while I am definitely a print book advocate it is really nice to have access to a library full of books at the touch of a button
    4. Skype-in addition to just being able to keep in touch I am able to ‘participate’ in Thanksgiving dinner (although for me it will be Friday morning instead of Thursday)
    5. Email, Facebook, Instagram, blogs and all the other ways I’m able to keep up with and keep tabs on everyone from so far away
  2. Air conditioning
  3. A job
  4. The church and an opportunity to attend a congregation here. I don’t always understand what’s being said but the Spirit needs no interpretation.
  5. The generosity of others in responding to our need for children’s books in English
  6. My family and their support for me and all of my crazy ideas
  7. The opportunity to live in and experience another country and culture
    1. All of the fun festivals and road trips and daily adventures that come with it 
  8. Plenty of food to eat (even if I don’t always know what it is I’m eating!)
    1. The ability to buy a complete meal for less than $2
  9. Great friends, both old and new
  10. The little bits of home I find here that make me feel less homesick
    1. Traditional Thanksgiving dinner
    2. A movie theater and buttered popcorn (btw, Catching Fire? =!)
  11. A place to live with all the modern conveniences
  12. Amazing sunsets
  13. Beautiful flowers
  14. Mosquito repellent
  15. Nonprajak park-I spend a good deal of time here.  It's right across the street from my house and filled with running trails, free classes and tons of people watching!
  16. My motorbike
  17. Clean water and clean clothes
  18. The chance to work with happy, smiling faces every day

Happy Thanksgiving. And happy Eve of Officially Getting to Listen to Christmas Music day!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

a tuneful Tuesday.

Every morning at school we start out with a short assembly where all the classes (2-5 year olds) gather to sing the national anthem, raise the flag, say a few prayers and sing a few songs. Inevitably this always turns into a toddler dance party of sorts with the teachers playing music over the loud speaker at eardrum shattering levels and the kids hopping around going crazy. (Yes, the crazy happens a lot during the day!) They don’t use kid-friendly songs like nursery rhymes or the Wheels on the Bus (at least as far as I can tell, maybe they’re re-mixed versions!) but pop songs like Gangnam Style and these:

Who knows what they're saying but you've got to admit they're kinda catchy! Hope you're having a fab week!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

a means of transportation

I’ve mentioned the traffic once or twice but there’s not a way to really understand it unless you see it. Steering wheels are on the right, cars drive on the left. Many of the roads are one-way divided highways with giant islands down the middle and special U-turn ramps to exit you from one direction and head you in the other. Smaller roads will have cutouts for u-turns and even smaller roads will just have the painted line to divide the two lanes. But really these lines are just suggestions. As in Cairo and Rome and I’m sure a few other cities around the world there don’t seem to be any rules at all. I have yet to see a speed limit sign or anything other than a ‘no u-turn’ designation. Three lanes will be painted on the road but the traffic will be 5 cars wide. When wanting to pass it’s completely legal to veer into oncoming traffic to do so. Just make sure you move back…eventually. Roundabouts are relatively common and I asked someone once who had the right of way and the answer was, whoever has the most guts. That’s pretty much the way all of the traffic works.

Motorbikes are a major form of transportation and they zoom and weave in and out of traffic going all directions and speeds with entire families and all their worldly possessions piled on them (seriously, I’ve seen a family of 4 and a dog with countless bags of groceries and furniture all on one bike.)

I’d hoped to maybe get a bicycle once I got here but while we were in our orientation we kept getting the counsel to not even try a bike or a motorcycle as the traffic is just too crazy and it’s too dangerous. Imagine my surprise when we got here to Udon and the other teachers who were already here told us we’d be getting a motorbike from the school to use.

I’ve always had a secret love for motorcycles. I’ve dated a couple of guys who drive them and, like playing an instrument, it automatically makes them just a little bit hotter than guys who don’t. Maybe it’s the bad boy persona, the feel of living just a bit on the wild side. I’ve joked for years that I was going to sell my car and get a Vespa or a mo-ped or something. So this is my chance to try it out. And hopefully not die!

We were taken to a parking lot and given a 2 minute tutorial on how to drive and then about 15 minutes of practice before getting the keys to our own bike and being sent on our merry ways. No license, no test, nothing. (That right there ought to give you an idea of how well the traffic works!) The only bike left was a tad bigger than a mo-ped, ie it’s super heavy. I had one incident with the bigger bike trying to make a u-turn and misjudging the weight and turning radius. I ended up with a few nasty bruises but made friends with a couple of nice Thai guys who came to help me lift the blasted thing and put it upright again. But aside from that little episode I’m getting the hang of things and can weave in and out of traffic with the best of them.

They have parking lots full of them, reminiscent of the bikes in Amsterdam.  You'd better know which one's yours!
I'm pretty sure this sign says "Ride at your own risk!"

gas is often sold at the roadside markets in bottles like booze...just don't drink it!
a terrible picture of my own Red Beast

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

going to a festival.

This last week was a busy one. We had a lot going on both at school and in town. First up we had a rive harvest celebration at the school. We loaded the preschool kids up into vans and ventured a couple of miles over to the elementary school. The kids were dressed up in native costumes and the parents turned out in droves. We had a local man give a harvest demonstration and then the kids were handed sickles and turned lose in the field to do some harvesting of their own. They cut the stalks, pulled the seeds off the stalks and then removed the grains from the husks. It was quite the process.

They followed it all up with a little carnival complete with food, games, karaoke and more. Pretty much we’re just always looking for an excuse to not do real school work.

In conjunction with this (sort of) was a national festival Loi Krathong on Sunday. This harvest festival takes place on the full moon of the 12th Thai month (which happened to be November this year). It gives thanks to the river and sky deities for the rain/water/abundant harvest and sends wishes for more success to come.

Elaborate floating candles are made of banana leaves, flowers and even food then are lit and sent out onto the water (the biggest celebration happens a little farther north along the Mekong River but we had a pretty decent showing in the lake in our park). There are also paper lanterns that are lit, filling with hot air and then rising into the sky. (Think of the movie Tangled- same, same!) If you can forget about all the pollution it’s really magical. Like stars you can touch or really big fireflies. (Apparently some even make it as far as the west coast of the USA and more ufo sightings are reported that day than any other as people see lights in the sky that then suddenly disappear.)

There were a few in the sky the first night I got here, leftover from Buddhist lent and they greeted me like tiny beacons of hope and wishes for the best in my new adventure so to see the sky full of them was truly an amazing sight.

How was your weekend?

Monday, November 18, 2013

a package in the mail!

We got our first boxes of books this week!! Anyone who is friends with me on facebook will know the set up to this but let me give you just a bit of backstory here.

One of my all time favorite (and I truly believe most important) things to do with kids is to read with them. There are countless studies about what a good read aloud can do for a child’s developing language skills so imagine my dismay when I got here and discovered that my classroom had a total of 4 books in English! The principal had asked for suggestions on books to order but we’ve got limited access since many places won’t deliver this far. So, I put a plea out to the webosphere and I was thrilled by the response. Many offered to send books that their kids had outgrown or to gather books in their church, school, and scouting groups to send our way. I know the shipping costs are horrendous so I expected small boxes of maybe 4 or 5 books. Imagine my delight when the first two came weighing in at 20 pounds a piece and holding dozens of books each (including some activity books and flash cards)! It was better than Christmas. I opened them right up and did a bit of sorting to see which ones I would hold back as teacher-use only to fit with our teaching themes and then set the rest aside for kid use and daily story time.

The kids were as excited as I was! Instantly they were clumped in groups talking about the princesses or superheroes, listening intently to the antics of Arthur, Angelina Ballerina and Thomas as read by our intern and asking me if these were really all for us. It was awesome!

Thanks to Roger and Janeil for your amazing generosity. You’ve made a huge difference in the lives of these kids and saved my sanity! Whenever there is a spare few minutes where chaos is reigning or one of the other teachers fails to show (which, happens every day!) I know have something worthwhile to fall back on. You're the best!!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

a list of randomosity.

Thoughts, facts and images brought to you direct from Thailand.

  • Best t-shirt message this week: "honesty is best apple".  Truth. (I mean, what else could it be?)
  • Number of Manchester United shirts/jackets etc. seen in the park today on my run/walk: 14
  • Number of grilled/bbq'd insects seen at the market yesterday: 3* 
  • An abandoned head in a van.  Cuz, why not?

  • It's amazing how cool 90 degrees can feel when the humidity level drops from 90%-70%.
  • I never thought I could miss desperately (to the point of having dreams about) carpet, trash cans, and paper towels. (among other things)
  • Amount of money I spent on a dish of curry, a plate of Naan, and 3 samosas: $2.50. And it was delicious.
  • A giant rubber duck enjoying a float in the lake and the lovely sunset, cuz again, why not?

Have a lovely weekend!

*crickets, scorpions, and worms in case you're interested

Friday, November 8, 2013

time spent on the water.

Several times now I’ve had the chance to dine on the water. The Thais have all these fun little boat house things on most sizable bodies of water and they use them to great advantage. The first place we went was strictly a restaurant. You walk down a long stretch of bamboo walkway with private ‘rooms’ on each side. Your waitress seats your party in one of the rooms and takes your order and you make yourself comfortable on the floor around the little table in the middle. Once the food comes you untie the rope and float your way out into the middle of the water to eat and escape the sounds of the karaoke (they do love their karaoke, participating in it everywhere; loudly and terribly!) from the room next door. When you’re finished you simply tow yourself back to the dock and pay your tab. It’s quite romantic! (the 5 of us girls had a lovely time ;)

The next experience was at a reservoir. The idea was similar but on a larger scale. A group of us from school all went, took a 2 ½ hour drive to a more rural area surrounded by trees and mountains. The lush setting was perfect for our Sunday afternoon outing. The boats here were considerably larger, tall enough for me to stand upright and big enough for the 8 of us to have plenty of space to all lounge about. We placed our order for dinner at the dock and then were towed out to the middle of the reservoir by a guy in a motor boat. There we swam and soaked up the sun until another guy in a boat brought us picnic baskets full of our food. When we decided we needed more som tam (and alcohol for the others) we made a ship to shore call and soon there was another boat speeding our way with the requested provisions. And again later when it was time to leave, another phone call produced yet another motor boat to tow us back to shore. It was quite the setup. I don’t know of anything quite like it in the states but someone should jump on that business venture, pronto.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

a survival story

One of the many things I’ve had to adjust to in Thailand are the myriad critters that now populate my world. There are ants that eat your computer, mosquitoes that carry several varieties of death and destruction, flies (usually on the food that you about to buy and consume), stray dogs that roam the streets like gangs, all sorts of birds that I haven’t been able to identify just to name a few. Some of these are less troublesome than others, some I’ve come to appreciate and delight in and some will freak me out forever and ever. Let me share just one story with you right now.

Story #1

The other day I’m out walking in the garden area with my class when one of the girls stops and points up to the top of a post, about 3 feet above my head. There, hovering ominously is the most ginormous moth I’ve ever seen. Anyone who has been a witness to me in the near proximity of a moth of any size will be proud and amazed at how I handled myself. I swallowed the scream that was dying to escape my lips, forced a smile and nodded affirming that it was indeed cool (she was speaking Thai and smiling so I assume that’s what she was saying, for all I know she was playing the same game I was) put her between me and the creature (she’s about a foot and a half tall so the logic of this….well, there isn’t any, but I was ready to sacrifice her completely if it came to it) and quickened my pace considerably. And then walked 10 or so feet out of my way on the return trip in order to not be anywhere near it.

So you’ll better understand just how amazing a feat this was let me explain. (Nope, there is too much. Let me sum up!)

I hate moths. There is not a strong enough word to describe my level of hatred for them. Butterflies are beautiful, peaceful things who are welcome to land on my finger and grace my garden but moths are of the devil. They are skittish, erratic things that flutter manically aiming to hit you continuously with their poisoned wings so they can stun you, crawl into your ears and eat your brains. And yes, I panic as if all the above statements were documented fact when there is one anywhere near me. It is not a pretty sight.

And to further clarify, this was not a tiny thing. No. Not even close. Remember when you were a kid and you’d loop your thumbs together and wiggle your palms/fingers to make a butterfly shadow puppet on the wall? Picture Shaquille O’Neal's monster hands doing the same thing and that is literally the size of the beast I encountered. It was terrifying. I wish I’d had a camera to prove it but let’s be honest, I wouldn’t have gotten close enough to take its picture. (I'm counting on it being the only one of its kind and there being no possibility that I will ever have to experience this again. Please don't burst my bubble.)

So, you see, I am pretty much the bravest person alive. Congratulations in the form of money, honorary doctorates or keys to small kingdoms will be most humbly accepted.