Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sri Lanka: Impossibly Beautiful

I was under a decade old when I was given my very first globe. I distinctly recall playing my favorite past-time one afternoon, spinning the globe and seeing what remote place my finger would land on, when I was introduced to the small island nation in the Indian Ocean: Sri Lanka. I remember picking my mother's brain for information and learning to pronounce this faraway land with an "sh" emphasis - Shri Lanka.

Having not yet developed my insatiable travel curiosity, Sri Lanka was placed into a filing cabinet in the back of my mind and remained a remote place that only existed in books and movies. Never did I imagine that I'd find myself 15 years later in the very place my little finger touched on the globe.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Goodbye Southeast Asia, Hello South Asia

It's been 14 and a half months since I left Southeast Asia. In my final days in Thailand, I've been trying to figure out how to say goodbye to a place that has changed my life.

Steaming hot Hoi Tod (fried mussels with egg)
Ingesting as many meals as my stomach will fit, I'm trying to savor every last bite of Thai food. I'm especially flaunting my broken Thai, because, who knows when I'll be able to communicate in a language other than English again. I'm smiling at every stranger and giggling at all the cultural quirks I've grown fond of. I am remembering the 10 Things I'll Miss About Living in Thailand that I wrote when I left for traveling two months ago. My departure is rapidly approaching and it's hard to believe I am really leaving this place.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Malaysia on my Mind

Ever since I left a month and a half ago, Malaysia has been on my mind in one way or another. Although I wrote about some of my trip in Life As a Solo Traveler, I've been procrastinating writing about what it was that fascinated me the most: the cultural diversity.

Three major ethnic groups make up the country's population: Indian, Chinese and Malay (though it's difficult to pinpoint what constitutes a native Malay as the country has long been a melting pot for many ethnicities). As an foreigner, I was immediately impressed at how seemingly well the different cultures worked, lived and co-existed with one another - at least as it initially appeared to me as an outsider. While the separate cultures are equally as rich and distinct from one another, it's not uncommon to witness the blending of the three groups in cuisine, religion, language and families & friends.
Indian blessing a Chinese lady at a Hindu temple

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Trekking to the Hill Tribes in Laos

Aboard a Bangkok-bound sleeper train, I am smiling -- not only because I'm thrilled to be back in Thailand, but also because of the wonderful memories Laos has left me with.

A highlight of my two weeks too short in Laos was a trek run by the company "White Elephant" based in Luang Prabang. Many tour companies offer a similar wide variety of kayaking, trekking, elephant riding, rock climbing and more outdoor activities accompanied with a visit to a hill tribe village. It was White Elephant that convinced me to join last minute a trip that promised to be an authentic experience to remember.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Corruption Junction, Cambodia

After my last post detailing how I was robbed in Phnom Penh, it's easy to understand how Cambodia was tainted for me from the get-go. Although I tried my best to judge the country unbiasedly, I was itching to get out of Phnom Penh, and ultimately, Cambodia.

Now, let me first explain my one major pet peeve among typical traveler conversations: when another traveler tells you definitively where to go or not go. I have so often been advised to completely avoid a destination because one person hated it, or been told to revise my travel plans to hit their favorite spot. Everyone has an opinion based on their interests, timing and experience. When I am asked for advice on a place, I try to be careful to articulate it in such a way to clariy it's only my opinion and experience.
Angkor Wat after our sunrise bike ride
That being said, I understand people have varying experiences and opinions of Cambodia. In fact, I know people whose opinions I trust that loved Cambodia.

After leaving peices of my heart in Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, I was started to wonder if there'd ever be a place I didn't love in it's own special way.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Everything is Nothing & Nothing is Everything

I got robbed in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Every traveler's worst nightmare.

I've heard stories of other unfortunate travelers. I've witnessed a sobbing woman whose bag was snatched from a motorbike on the streets of Vietnam.

But that stuff isn't supposed to happen to me.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Life of a Solo Traveler

"You're traveling the world, alone?!?!"

Well, technically, I guess you could say that.
Monkey Beach, Penang National Park, Malaysia
But, as I try to explain to hesitant friends and family, I'm never actually alone (unless of course I want to be - another great perk of solo travel). Traveling alone is not only one of the best things I've ever done, but also one of the easiest and least scary ways to travel - despite what it may seem to the unfamiliar.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Phi-Phi: Is it Pee-Pee or Paradise?

Living and traveling in Southeast for over a year, the name Koh Phi Phi (or Phi Phi Island) came up enough times to make me realize I had to see what the hype was all about.

Phi Phi (pronounced Pee-Pee) was made famous by the backpacker book and movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio "The Beach".  Since then, hoards of tourists flock to get a piece of what once was the undiscovered paradise as described in the story, making it not-so undiscovered anymore.
Typical Phi Phi backpacker tales involve drunken escapades amongst an idyllic setting. While some claim Phi Phi has been ruined by the crowds, most travelers would agree that despite the hot commodity the island has become, it would be a crime to skip over such a paradise.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sisters do the South

I could not have asked for a better way to kick-off my extended travel than with my sisters and best friends.

Having not seen my sister, Morgan, in over a year, 10 days in Thailand with her and her long-time best friend, Kendall, (who has always been a sister to me) was a trip of a lifetime for all of us.
Morgan, myself and Kendall on Karon Beach, Phuket
After a couple days playing tour-guide around Bangkok's temples and markets, we headed the furthest south I'd been in Thailand -  the country's most talked about beach destination: Phuket.

As is the nature of travel, not everything can go smoothly. But, it's such sticky situations which require the ability to have some faith and laugh a little - and that we did.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Long-Awaited Long-Term Travel Begins!

Over summer holiday, I traveled around Asia for a couple months. Pretty soon upon departure, I knew I was hooked, and I wouldn't be able to go home without seeing more of this continent. I remember distinctly it was on those long night buses in Vietnam that I began devising what would become my current long-term travel plan. The girl I met & traveled in Vietnam with and I even began discussing the possibility of an India trip together.

Once I moved to Ubon, my sole pre-occupation and determination to stick out the semester was to save money for the biggest trip of my life yet. Although I made sure not to sacrifice having fun, I had a very clear goal of mind of saving money, and stuck to it. Although the school canteen was without a doubt the worst food I've had in Thailand (..or in life), the free price had me coming back for more. Often the only money I'd exchange during the work week was a 30 baht dinner. I had after-school tutoring for extra cash, allowing me to mainly refrain from touching my Thai account.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

10 Things I'll Miss About Living in Thailand

In many ways, this challenging semester illuminated for me that I could never permanently settle here and it was time to wrap up life in Thailand. Despite the occasional aggravations in my final months, words fail to articulate how difficult it is to say goodbye to a place that changed my life. At the end of my days living in Thailand, I reflected on what I'll miss most & certainly reminisce about for years to come.

1. An Ode to Thai Food 
If you missed my pathetic attempt at poetry, check out my last post dedicated to my love affair with Thai cuisine. Besides my number one true love, the rest are in no meaningful order...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

An Ode to Thai Food

This is Thailand: walk down the street
and you'll get whiff of that distinct chili heat
At any place, any hour on any day,
the woks will surely be clinking away

When the pangs of hunger do appear,
without a kitchen at home, most would fear
But walk a few feet north, south, west or east
and you'll find yourself a memorable feast
Ba Mee Moo Daeng - Egg noodle soup with
barbeque pork topped with peanuts
Thai people eating everywhere,
An empty street stall would be rare!
At only thirty baht for a delicious meal,
Your taste buds will be dancing at a steal

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Anecdotes from Exam Week

With two weeks left of school, I'm desperately trying to complete the semester grades of my 700+ students. While I've certainly had better weeks involving less chaotic and redundent busy work, a couple of anecdotes from testing week have made me giggle.

"The Plight" in Action
I wrote about the conundrum of government schools in Thailand both in a detailed blog post and the article The Plight of Government Schools in Thailand for a website called AsiaPundits, but I thought I might provide some first hand examples of the backward system straight from testing week.

After a semester of receiving zero instruction or materials for teaching yet again, I am expected to test my students. Fair enough. The test doesn't serve to actually evaluate their knowledge, but more as a formality to provide the necessary evidence for the (laughable) Ministry of Education, which in turn will keep the funds coming so long as everyone looks busy.

So, I devise the easiest possible test because, as I wrote about in "The Plight...", all students must pass. Whereas last semester I was instructed to senselessly handwrite "pass" next to 1200 students' names, this semester I was given six poorly translated objectives that students must receive a grade for.

After running up and down the stairs between the grade five and six offices trying to sort out unclear and contradictory instructions, finally someone told it how it was.

Thailand is a culture that is all about saving face. This usually involves stepping on eggshells so as not to bring attention to problems or corruption. 

Oraya, the head of English for grade five, probably speaks the best English in the school. She knows of my familiarity with Thailand after a year of working here, and she is also smart enough to realize that things are done differently here than in other places. Despite our lengthy English conversation, she finally spoke words that I recognized as my language when she stated what is implicit in Thai culture:

"This is Thailand. Make it up!"

Monday, September 10, 2012

Thai Language Defeated Me

A few months ago, I was regularly making small talk with any local willing to spare a few minutes to let me practice my Thai. While running errands around town, I'd point at objects I didn't know the Thai for and ask strangers to kindly tell me the vocabulary. As I taught English in the classroom, I often requested my students to exchange their language with me, providing the children with a source of comedy at my butchered attempt to mock their pronunciation. When out with English-speaking Thai friends, I would pester them to teach me phrases as they came to mind whilst speaking some silly version of Tinglish over our noodle soup dinner. Come weekend, you'd find me at the local bar in my prime, confidently making new friends using only Thai, thanks to the flowing alcohol having removed any inhibitions of self-doubt.
Sometime between then and now, this all faded away. I can make a million excuses about getting absorbed into my busy routine, being surrounded by farang, barely finding time for myself between multiple jobs and feeling comfortable enough with the Thai I already knew - but what it really came down was this: I was not willing to make the necessary sacrifice.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Universal Healthcare: Is the Chaos Worth the Cause?

Fact: According the the World Bank, 99.5% of Thailand's population is covered under their medical system.
- -
Due to my apparently weakened immune system, I've fallen victim of trivial illnesses far too often in the past few months. Multiple times I found myself at the dreaded Sappasit Prasong Hospital in search of an English-speaking doctor to cure my ailments.

My very first week in Ubon, plagued by a recurring sore throat, I braved the government hospital in all its language barriers on my own. Back then, this was an intimidating task considering the challenge of navigating the numerous steps and employees without a lick of English language. Having sinceforth been back with the aid of a Thai teacher, Bhinya, I definitely waited a couple hours too long on my own. Four months in Ubon and one too many visits later, I could comfortably navigate that place now being deaf and blind.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Art of Living Slow

Many people have asked me my preference of the two locations I've lived in Thailand.

While I miss the seaside comforts and accessibility of my first home in Sriracha (an easy 1.5 hour commute from Bangkok), I've grown fond of my current residence in Ubon Ratchathani, nestled deep in the traditional region of Isaan.

Last term, my Thai co-workers shrieked in awe of my decision to move up to Isaan. "But, Bangkok is so far! There is no sea! And the food is NOT as delicious!"

It's true that Bangkok is no longer an easy weekend trip; the 10-12 hour bus ride has kept me from making more than one trip this term. And there may not be a sea nearby, but who knew the monotony of rice paddies could be so breathtaking? Just outside of Ubon city, the fresh air and well-irrigated lush green fields (thanks to monsoon season) nourish your soul in ways you didn't even know could feel so good. I'm convinced that everyone needs some natural green in their life.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

แห่เทียน (Hae Thian) - Candle Festival

Asanha Bucha Day is the Buddhist holiday that commemorates the beginning of Khao Pansaa, or Buddhist Lent. Also known as the "Rain Retreat," this is a three-month period where monks are meant to stay inside monastery grounds for a period of study and meditation.

The most famous national celebration, the "Candle Festival," takes place right in my town, Ubon Ratchathani. Weeks in advance, workers prepare downtown Ubon for the event by building structures and cleaning the park. Massive wax sculptures are intricately carved and displayed at the local museum in anticipation of the festival.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Exploring the Hinterland

Since many Thai holidays are clustered into the second half of the year, I'd become accustomed to an ample number of long weekends in my first term of teaching. So, when a four-day long weekend (August 1-4) rolled around,  it was both very necessary and welcome. Finally, we had time (and a ride!) to explore the depths of our province.

Perhaps because this region is not on the typical tourist route, the national parks of Ubon are not readily accessible without private transportation. When a Thai teacher offered to take us foreign teachers on a day trip around Ubon, we jumped on the opportunity.

We set off early in the morning to make the most of the day, returning just after dark for the beginnings of the Candle Festival. Enjoy some photos from our one day exploration of the hinterland...
Kaeng Saphu Rapids (It's rainy season, so the rapids are submerged)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The End of an Era

This past weekend, my closest friends in Thailand gathered in the university town of Khon Kaen for our usual escapades. This time though, it would be our last weekend all together, as two of my best friends are leaving the semester early to travel before their September flights back to England. Bidding them a farewell has marked the imminent end of a very important era in all of our lives.

Last October, we arrived in Thailand as strangers and created steadfast friendships as like-minded recent university graduates looking for an adventure. Although a few of our close friends left after the first semester, a remaining five of us from our original cohort stuck around to build a nice little life for ourselves in Isaan. Not only will our routine be altered with the departure of two of our own, but their leaving has reminded me that the rest of ours is not too far off, either.
With two months of the semester left, this chapter is coming to a close. Although I will travel for many months after the semester ends, at ages 22 and 23 years old, it is getting to be time for all of us to go home - at least for a while.

Monday, July 23, 2012

I Think I'm Turning Thai

A couple of weeks ago, it was brought to my attention that I may be turning Thai.

It was another hundred degree (38+ Celsius for those that don't speak American) Sunday afternoon in Northeast Thailand. Unlike Arizona's dry heat I grew up in, this is a nauseating type of humidity that makes sitting in an un-airconditioned room unbearable. So, I head to the local grocery store to catch an hour of air-con and pick up a few bits.

I wait on the street to catch songtaew number three to the grocery store. I wear long jeans and a conservative polyester short-sleeved shirt, an outfit I'd once deemed unfit for such brutal heat. With no nearby awning for shade, I pull out my umbrella for a momentary relief of the beating sun. The pink songtaew approaches, I wave it down using the Thai hand motion that symbolizes "come here" - a hand formation that closely resembles "go away" in my culture.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

[My Take on] Being Gay in Thailand

By day, the Thung Si Mueng Park of Ubon may appear as any old standard park in Thailand, but by night, it transforms into a magical place. For high school students, it is the paradigm of the social hang out; for the health-conscious it is the public fitness center; for families it is the backyard they don't have; for vendors it is their shop; for skateboarders and bikers it is where they hone their skills; it is home to aerobics and ballroom dance classes; for singers and dancers it is their rehearsal room; and it provides the evening entertainment for those with nothing better to do, like us foreign teachers after a long day of work. Night after night, the people-watching and eclectic slew of activities never ceases to amaze.

Nearly every evening, a group of 9 homosexual males who coin themselves "The Beat Generation" gather outside of the park temple to rehearse a modern hip-hop dance routine. They are talented, flamboyant and inspiringly proud of it.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Birthday America, With Love From Thailand

Today, I spent Independence Day driving to and fro the nearest border crossing in Chong Mek to exit and re-enter Thailand for my visa.

During the 6 hours of travel, I found myself fondly recalling my favorite 4th of July memories and missing all things American - especially barbecues and American craft beer (which puts our iced Thai beer to shame), but mostly my friends and family.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Government Schools in Thailand

There is no education system without flaw, and it's improbable that such an ideal even exists. Certainly, though, there should be some type of universal educational standard. After nearly nine months of teaching in Thailand, I must make this bold, but long overdue statement:

The government school system in Thailand is horrendous.

I don't claim to be an expert, but after working at two different schools across the country and comparing notes with teachers around Thailand, that is my opinion. I admit to generalizing, as there are some decent government institutions and extremely intellectual people, but they are far and few between. I might mention that I mean no disrespect; I hold the utmost regard for this country and its people. I have here outlined what I see to be some major faults of Thailand's Ministry of Education. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

How to Cross the Street in Vietnam

With as many motorbikes as there are families in Vietnam – of which the entire lot is commonly squeezed on one bike (along with chickens, balloons and other arbitrary cargo) – chaos is an understatement.
After a lifetime experience crossing the street, the task seems like a no-brainer. In Vietnam, however, it is necessary to learn a completely different set of rules to avoid becoming the next unknown meat in a street stall noodle soup.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Quarter-life Crisis

Over eight months ago, I left America as an over-ambitious, post-grad soul-searching wide-eyed twenty-two year old. I voluntarily called quits on everything important in my life and positioned myself across the world.


Because I felt too young for anything resembling monotony. If not now, then when?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Have You Eaten Rice Yet?

As I watched my favorite street vendor whip up the usual thirty baht (approximately $1 USD) shrimp Pad Thai, I noticed that she added more love into it on this particular evening than usual. Devouring the perfect blend of sweet and sour rice noodles, it dawned on me what separates Thai cuisine so greatly from others: that extra bit of love that comes in every dish.
I have always been inspired by all things food, so it was only natural that my appreciation for the Thai cuisine (at least the Americanized version) influenced my move abroad. After 8 months in Thailand, I feel at home in a culture that prioritizes their unique food culture. My body has accumulated to the Thai diet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – so much so that I can no longer taste food if it isn’t spicy.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Familiar, Unfamiliar Beginning

Given the right effort and a positive attitude, it is possible to build a life for yourself anywhere.

A few weeks ago, I found myself yet again in that all-too-familiar unfamiliar environment: a new city surrounded by new faces. I had to find the strength within myself to make an effort, once again. 

My first real wave of homesickness came during this first week in Ubon. Suddenly, it hit me that I've been across the world, away from many of the people closest to my heart, for nearly 8 months. 

My new full-time job, although a complete upgrade from my last school, seemed monotonous and a semester far too long. How was I going to make time pass pleasantly?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Life from a Backpack

The past couple months of traveling have provided me with some of my most eye-opening and brilliant life experiences.

Before I left, I was sure that after 2.5 months backpacking, I'd be more then ready to settle down again. What I found was the opposite - there is never enough time dedicated solely to travel.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Update from Ubon

After celebrating Songkran in Chiang Mai, I headed further north to the Burmese border town of 'Mae Sai' with my friend Emily, where we stayed with her step-mom's cousin. Here, we were able to peer into a 65 year old expat's life on his huge estate housing his 25 year younger Thai wife, her entire family, 9 dogs, and about 10 orphan children that they care for. We attended a local Thai carnival complete with hand-crafted games that wouldn't keep Western children impressed for half a second and a gambling tent for adults (no one minded if children joined in) that functioned from paying off the police. While the visa cost held us back from a day trip to Burma, we did our own exploring of Mae Sai as we struggled to stay cool in the unbearable heat.
In Mae Sai, the Northern most point of Thailand

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Songkran is a quintessential Thai holiday that I had the pleasure of experiencing last month.

Songkran, derived from a Sanskrit word literally meaning "astrological passage," is considered the Thai new year. Although, the Thai calendar year (currently the year 2055) changes in sync with the Western calender. The origins of Songkran may come from a similar Buddhist holiday in India. Buddhist countries in the SE Asia region such as Burma, Laos and Cambodia celebrate a similar festival around the same time as Thailand (April 13 - 15).

Although officially the festival is three days long, in reality it often encompasses a 5 or 6 day period in which you can expect to be perpetually soaking wet given one step outside.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hong Kong-ed

Before I came to Thailand, I didn't imagine that I'd have the opportunity to venture further than Southeast Asia. When a generous family friend offered up their empty Hong Kong apartment for a week, the relatively inexpensive flights made the decision a no-brainer.

Right around the time I began considering my friend's offer, I met Emily through our mutual visiting friend, Colette. Next thing we knew, we booked our Air Asia tickets to explore this vaguely familiar place that neither of us knew much about. We were going to China! Or wait, were we? (More on that, later)

Little did we know that our social lives in Asia would reach their peak during this week. While we assumed we'd be on our own, who would have thought we'd be juggling multiple social groups in a completely foreign city?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Cám ơn, Việt Nam

As my Bangkok bound flight ascends higher into the air, the birdseye view of the Saigon night sky becomes but an illusion of the past - and I am reflecting on the past two weeks.

I am left in awe over this incredible country; what respect & fondness I've grown from the rich, troubled history, and how I've been touched by & connected with such a kind population of people. I have learned and seen more then I could have hoped for in two weeks, yet it was not nearly long enough.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Venturing Vietnam

What a world it is! In the realm of just Southeast Asia, each country proudly exhibits a vastly different culture, language, religion and cuisine. Upon landing in Hanoi, Vietnam, I felt for the first time in my 6 months on this continent that I was really in Asia. I'm struggling to pinpoint what feels so much more foreign, which may well be my developed comfort in Thailand.

Imagine the place you thought had the most insane drivers & lack of traffic regulation, and times that by 20 = Hanoi. I once thought Israeli drivers were out of their mind, until I saw the reckless roads in southern Italy, until I witnessed the helmet-less families of 5 crammed on one motorbike swerving in between cars on the wrong side of the road in Bangkok, and now I'm convinced there can not be anything crazier then Hanoi. Saying that, I've been forewarned that the biggest city in Vietnam, Saigon, takes the lead in roadside hysteria. It's hard to describe in words the intersections lacking traffic lights with the swarm of thousands of motorbikes, cars and bicycles maneuvering around pedestrians, but certainly not stopping for them - even people midway across the street are left to dodge the vehicles strategically. A few days in Hanoi, and you'll learn that crossing the street is a skill. Motorbikes often carry enormous loads of wholesale goods triple the size of the actual bike, strapped on with bungee cords, requiring a double glance to ensure your eyes don't lie. Vietnam brings a whole new meaning to honking: it's not used in the negative context that it is often in Western society; instead it's a repetitive harmonious-like symbol to warn others, "Watch out, I'm coming!" And watch out you best!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

[Ham]mocking Real Life

I'm writing this from my iPod touch on a 12 hour journey back to Bangkok. As annoying as the touch screen is, I have not much else to do but twiddle my thumbs, so I figure I might as well put then to use.

My travels have kicked off with a bigger bang than I could have hoped for. Other than a series of unfortunate events, such as my beloved Chaco sandals being tossed out of the emergency exit on a bus in Bangkok and Joann's multiple battle wounds from the week, it has been a great start to my travels & hopefully just the vacation Joann needed from real life in NYC.

It all began on Friday March 2nd at the same place it began in October in Bangkok: Khao San Road. Only now, I felt completely out of place on the packaged tourist streets that I've grown to despise. But, as I am being a backpacker for 2 months, I suppose it is fitting to begin such a journey there.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Farewell, Sriracha; Until Next Time...

As much as I may have complained about being the only foreign teacher at Surasakwittayakom School - at least in my head, as I had no one to complain to - finishing teaching here still feels bittersweet, with with an emphasis on the sweet.

Being the only foreign teacher at a Thai high school has been nothing short of an endurance test. I was constantly ill-informed about crucial announcements, and forced to navigate the politics of the Thai school system on my own. Luckily, I befriended a few co-workers whom, despite their broken English and nearly double age difference, became my informants and friends. Still, not having communication with English speakers at work occasionally felt lonely. On the worst of days, the un-airconditioned classrooms combined with the absurdly humid climate mirrored being trapped alone in a sauna. Responsible for teaching the entire school, the majority of poorly-behaved classes and my unclear duties at times seemed a pointless effort. That being said, the motivated, kind students provided me with just enough inspiration to keep going. Reflecting upon it all, my life here in Thailand has been shaped by this unique experience. Because of it, I have become a better teacher - certainly more flexible, understanding and with the ability to think on my feet, having not been given a curriculum  or any resources. Given the environment, I was forced to learn world's more of the Thai language and culture. Although I leave behind many remarkable students and co-workers, I am eerily excited to have accomplished what I hope to be the more challenging of my jobs in Thailand.
           "Academic Day" at school
                Students selling Thai spicy sausages                                              

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pineapple Shmineapple

Pinapple: that acidic, luscious fruit that in its perfect form is the ultimate blend of sweet and sour. That fruit near and dear to my heart that has always been a pineapple - I can no longer fully accept to be a pineapple. Now that my mind has been opened to the fascinating realm of language – I have learned to accept that all names are arbitrary, and a pineapple is just as equally a ‘suparod,' or hundreds of other names that exist for it.

After years of studying multiple languages by the book in the classroom, I was convinced my brain was just not wired to grasp more than one language. With enough effort and within the right environment, I have found that I am capable of stepping outside of my comfort zone and speaking a foreign language. After living in Thailand for over 4 months in a town where most do not speak English, I have learned enough Thai to get by comfortably. Although I may butcher the tonal aspect despite my best efforts, this is the most of a language that I have ever known or used. I have found my success to be a combination of environment, conscious effort, and most importantly: vulnerability. It is all about putting oneself out there for better or for worse. As my vocabulary knowledge slowly expanded, the intimidation of actually speaking with natives didn’t disappear until I forced myself to repeatedly make a fool of myself.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Moosewood Restaurant does Thailand

The past two weekends I have spent adventuring with two of my former co-workers from Moosewood Restaurant, Barry and Justin.

The first weekend, we headed to Kanchanaburi for a very Ithaca-esque weekend: temple cave dwelling, long sunset walks, visiting the famous "Death Railway" and "Bridge Over River Kwai," hiking and swimming in the Erawin National Park (a beautiful 7-tiered waterfall & national park). The highlight was definitely a 12k kayak down the River Kwai - which we approached as more of a lazy river, taking our sweet time. After a perfect river stroll with a few laughable incidents (Barry tipping over and Justin briefly losing his kayak under a 'floating restaurant'), we indulged in a massive amount of proper Thai food on a river restaurant. It was one of those many Thailand weekends that I couldn't stop smiling about for days.
Barry & Justin in Wat Khao Pun (Cave Temples)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Chonburi Livin'

Weekend of January 13
My first visitors to Sriracha, Chonburi included my dear friend Colette from college and her friend Emily who is teaching in Northeast Thailand. I did not know Emily before, but we bonded quickly over random mutual friends, attending college in the dear-to-our-hearts town of Ithaca, NY (she went to Cornell) and our similar experiences of teaching in Thailand. I was able to show Colette the lovely weekend Night Market of Sriracha where she indulged in Thailand's most talked about late night snack: bugs. (When in Rome, right?!) We enjoyed the nightlife with the company of my Sriracha friends. We rolled out of bed to meet Emily at the bus station at 5:30 AM, questionably still under the influence. After a few more hours of needed slumber, we set off on a ferry to Koh Sichang. This was my first time visiting this island that is only 30 minutes away, but it will not be my last! It is very low key, not touristy and an easy day trip from me. Of course I had to run into a group of my students while I was sunbathing in a bikini (I cannot escape seeing one of the 1200 wherever I go around here). After a quick ferry back, feeding the Koh Loi sea turtles and some deliciously authentic street food, we grabbed a bus to my [far from most] favorite place in the world: Pattaya.
Colette making the bug purchase, Sriracha Night Market

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Grow up!

In Thailand, there is an obsession with much of what Westerners deem as childish, to name a few: "Hello Kitty" apparel, big pink hair ribbons, and an obnoxious amount of awkwardly staged photos. I have now learned that these "weird Asian trends," usually don't stand alone. To a foreigner, Thai children, teenagers and even young adults seem to act about half the age they truly are. It is difficult to explain how, but if you compare Thai children with Western children of the same age they may have nothing in common. I now understand that the immaturity and naivety of all Thai children is the product of their sheltered childhood.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

You either get it, or you don't get it.

The beginning of my new year has been shaped by multiple Americans friends that are traveling through Thailand. I am lucky enough to explore, travel and host them during their time here. As great as my new friends here are, there truly is nothing like the comfort of a familiar face from my pre-Thailand life.

It was over a beer last weekend in Bangkok with an Ithacan friend that for the first time it was brought to my attention that I have "changed." Even with the positive implication that he intended, I instinctually defended myself: NO, I have not! (I guess some things die hard, like my inherent argumentativeness.) With the lonely work week dragging on, I've had more time to acknowledge that perhaps he was right.