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

I had a brief scare of not being unable to get back to Bangkok to meet my parents in time with the sold out buses due to the holiday. Luckily, our hosts knew some people who knew some people, and I made it in time to meet them at the airport after they were stuck overnight in Japan. We had a fully packed day seeing the sights of Bangkok, a few days bonding with elephants and learning how to cook Thai food in the lovely Chiang Mai, and the necessary R&R time on the island of Koh Samet. I feel very lucky to have parents who traveled across the world to visit me, and I will always treasure the memories we made. I also am grateful that they listen to my ever-changing and unknown life plans without judgment, but most importantly, support the life that I've currently chosen.
My parents & I during Mahout (Elephant Trainer) Camp
After bidding my parents farewell, I picked up the rest of my life that was stored in Sriracha before heading to Pattaya for a week-long seminar through my employer. Although this seminar was geared towards new teachers, a few of my friends and I decided to accept the invitation solely for the free food and fancy accommodation, as we were all broke towards the end of our travels.

After stressing about how I'd manage to get all of my belongings across the country - it somehow worked out. As promised, my company transported me to Isaan with several other teachers who I am now living and working with. Isaan is a term that encompasses the sprawling Northeast region of Thailand, but also describes the people, culture, traditions, cuisine, and dialect that differs greatly from the rest of Thailand, as it is predominantly influenced by Laos. My new home is in the city and province of Ubon Ratchathani in Isaan, which borders both Laos and Cambodia. 
Wat Thung Si Muang, Ubon
We met with our new school, Anuban Ubon Ratchathani. The Thai staff, including the "Head of English," to no surprise, speaks very little English. Still, with a semester behind me in a much more rough & tough situation, nothing daunts me anymore. The school already seems like a world's improvement from last semester. I share an (air-conditioned!) office with 4 other teachers in the normal English program of the school. While the school ranges from Pre-K up until 6th grade, my experience with older students has landed me with Prathom 5 and 6 (ages 10-12).  I will be teaching 17 hours a week, as opposed to the maximum of 24 hours I was doing at my last school.

We found out that the massive school also has an English Program (students pay more to take all of their subjects in English) that employs 15 other foreign teachers. That means that there will be a total of 20 foreign teachers at this school- a huge number with a lot of potential for a strong expat community here in Ubon.

The 3 teachers I came with and I are living on the same hall of an apartment building. Although I have my own space, it's very different than last semester, where I became so accustomed to self-dependency and exploration. I will surely still make time for that - but it's nice to have people around to speak my language. The 4 of us are all extremely different people, but it seems like it should be a positive environment to work in.

Due to an ongoing sickness, I spent my first free day in Ubon sitting amongst the chaos of a government hospital, which reminds me more of a zoo than a place of medicine. Without an English speaker in the building, I felt accomplished that my knowledge of Thai was enough to navigate such a situation with the desired outcome. Although I am nowhere spectacular, I am making slow accomplishments and have plans to take private lessons here in Ubon.

The last few days have been dedicated to discovering my new hometown - with lots and lots of sweating involved. The feeling of perpetual sweat is becoming all too familiar, and I pray the rainy season brings a bit of coolness to our lives, though I fear for the actuality of the increased humidity.

I am really digging Ubon's vibe. Great food, friendly people and beautiful religious sites define this city that is rich in history and tradition. Although I'm accustomed to the stares that come along with being a foreigner in a non-tourist location, they do feel a bit more drawn out here, as Isaan is very much off the beaten path of the tourist route. I have begun to figure out the local songtaew (bus) routes and look forward to exploring the national parks and nature surrounding the city. In addition to bordering Laos and Cambodia, I am a cheap bus ride away from several other Isaan provinces housing many of my best friends.
River Mun, Ubon Ratchathani
 Tomorrow is our first day at school to prepare for classes. On Monday, we go in for another preperation day, but classes officially begin on Wednesday. 

And so goes the next chapter...

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