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?
Soon enough, I found my groove here in Ubon. I have gotten to know the other 2 young foreign teachers from South Africa. I have purchased myself a bicycle to use for the semester, allowing for much more freedom and exercise. And 'tis the season of saving for travel - thus I've signed myself up for multiple extra jobs.
I've picked up a couple after school private tutoring jobs. My first student, a toddler boy named Marker, is easily the highlight of my Monday-Friday. His innocence, shrewd capacity and willingness to learn light up my day. It is a teacher's dream job here in Thailand: in an air-conditioned classroom, I am provided with a myriad of materials including books, songs, videos, games and flashcards to use. Everyday, his little 3-year old brain does not cease to amaze me; his mind is like a sponge. It is a neat experience watching someone actually learn and retain what I teach. Our fondness for one another has become mutual; it's a task ripping him off of me when it's time for me to go.
Marker and I
The second toddler boy, Ken, is a bit more of a challenge. Initially, my school boss made me feel pressured to do a superb job since the family is one of the most prominent in Ubon. Ken is clearly the product of a spoiled upbringing, struggling to leave his mother's side even momentarily. Luckily, the parents aren't so serious about the lessons, but would rather just have Ken exposed to English during our time together. Overall, both are easy extra jobs and the added exhaustion is a welcome aid in the task of sleeping soundly on my uncomfortable mattress.
The side-job I am most enthused about is an opportunity to get my fingers wet in the world of travel journalism. I am excited to begin writing for "Travelfish.org" to update their Ubon Ratchathani section, including restaurants, nightlife, sights, transportation and more. I am still in shock I've landed myself a gig to actually get paid to do all of my favorite things I'd be doing anyway.
We've discovered Thung Mi Si Park at night - which basically turns into an outdoor gym filled with exersize-fanatic Thai people running, jogging, free aerobics classes, and even some machines and weights. Just beyond the park exists the perfect post-work out dinner - anything you could ever want at the night market.
Either I am easily pleased by food or Thailand food markets are my idea of heaven - but they continuously bring me joy. I thought the one in Sriracha was irreplaceable but the Ubon food scene, too, is a dime piece. From hand-made juicy sausages, fresh green salads with homemade Asian dressing, fresh 70 cent large fruit smoothies, the best Vietnamese Pho and pancakes I've tasted (including Vietnam itself), Japanese food and Isaan specialties (Papaya salad, sticky rice, grilled chicken) to foreign Thai desserts - it is better than Disneyland.
After the work-out and scrumptious meal, a nighttime stroll back at the park certainly beats any sit-com I've seen yet. We could spend hours watching the random slew of activities including unfamiliar games, ballroom dancing, football games, Thai boys practicing their skateboarding tricks, prayer services and more. It's going to be weird one day to be in a country that doesn't feel as safe, friendly and comfortable to roam around at night with or without friends.
As if my schedule wasn't busy enough, two high-school girls approached me in the park wanting to learn English but without means to pay. Perhaps because I work with a majority of students who don't care or understand about the importance of English, I am a sucker for people who genuinely want to learn English. Through some version of Tinglish, we negotiated that two evenings a week we would meet in the park for a language exchange. I will spend 30 minutes teaching them English, and then another 30 minutes will be dedicated to teaching me Thai. It will be interesting to see how it pans out given the small amount of each other's languages we know.
As for the four months to follow here in Ubon, they don't seem as daunting. All in all, I have 5 various jobs to keep me well beyond busy. I have events, trips and visitors to look forward to. I have 3-year old Marker, who brings joy to my mundane working week days. I have opportunities to further my comprehension of Thai language. I have an exciting new job getting paid for doing what I love doing and writing about it. And to top it off, I am planning the ultimate multi-month backpacking trip beginning in October that will top off an incredible year in Thailand!
Tomorrow, I am off to my friends' province for a long weekend to return the visit they paid me for my 23rd birthday two weeks ago.
Laura & I on my 23rd birthday in Ubon