A Letter to America

Dear America,

I couldn’t get much sleep last night thinking about you. I would like to say that I was thinking of your finer parts: the Blue Ridge Mountains, bluegrass music, hugging my parents, contributing to your public education system, and your national parks….but I wasn’t.

I was thinking about Libya. And Iraq. And Afghanistan. And even Vietnam.

I was thinking about how no matter where I travel, my nationality will bring forth opinions. Everyone, everywhere will know about you. If they like you, it’s probably because: a.) they like Lady Gaga or b.) they think everyone is living a lavishly rich life “over there” or even worse, c.) they are intimidated by your tendency to bomb governments that don’t like you.

You see, the thing is, I’m not really interested in being a superpower. I don’t actually want to be known for Lady Gaga, material stuff, or military force. I’d like to travel the world just once, and after answering the question, “Oh, where are you from?”… be serenaded with the words, “Oh, I’ve heard it’s beautiful there. Can you tell me more about it, I’m afraid I don’t know much about the United States.”

But those are just pipe dreams. For now, I’ll just keep my fond memories of you in tact, and hold close to my heart all of your positive qualities.

Love,

Jaime

My favorite American cat

Mt. Rainier

Yellowstone National Park

My favorite American Grandad

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Monkey Mountain

Yesterday after school, Kelly and Neung took us on a little tour of Bang Saen to see some places that are only reachable by car–(they recently got a car!).

So, our first stop was this really amazing and really massive Chinese temple.

Where we both got to beat this huge, old gong.

So, as you can imagine, we left all feeling peaceful and sweet and at one with the world….but then the afternoon quickly took a turn. We went to the infamous “monkey mountain”, a place we had heard about, where there a ton of monkeys and tourists feed them fruit…

I’ve seen monkeys in wild a few times, but they have always been in trees located in national parks or uninhabited islands. But THESE monkeys were kickin it right in the middle of the street. Hanging out on concrete, sitting on cars, digging through trashcans, and co-mingling with the stray dogs. It was the weirdest feeling I have ever felt. It was a little cool to be so close to monkeys, to see their newborn babies clinging on to their mamas. But it also felt overwhelmingly sad and wrong. Obviously, the monkeys lived on that mountain before the humans (duh), and the humans came in with concrete and dreams of making money, starting feeding the monkeys, and now the monkeys are almost domesticated. They weren’t scared of the cars. They were eating pretty much anything they deemed edible. And they were walking right up to humans…

There were some girls there buying bird’s eggs and bananas and feeding the monkeys while we were there. The monkeys would throw the bird’s egg on the cement, crack it, and then lick up the yolk.

It was definitely a strange experience. We didn’t feed any of the monkeys, we didn’t feel like it was right, but then again–getting food from humans has become there only source of food now I’m sure. There are a lot of strange animal interactions you can have here in Thailand. You can curl up next to a tiger and hold it’s baby cub, feed monkeys on monkey mountain, and ride on elephants….but when you stop and think about it….none of that makes any sense at all.

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The Way We Were

My main man, Bob Dylan, has written a lot of amazing things. But some of my all time favorite lyrics come from his song “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”, (please allow me to serenade you now):

My love she speaks like silence
Without ideals or violence
She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful
Yet she’s true, like ice, like fire
People carry roses
Make promises by the hours
My love she laughs like the flowers
Valentines can’t buy her

In the dime stores and bus stations
People talk of situations
Read books, repeat quotations
Draw conclusions on the wall
Some speak of the future
My love she speaks softly
She knows there’s no success like failure
And that failure’s no success at all

The cloak and dagger dangles
Madams light the candles
In ceremonies of the horsemen
Even the pawn must hold a grudge
Statues made of matchsticks
Crumble into one another
My love winks, she does not bother
She knows too much to argue or to judge

I especially love the last line. I have always thought that being someone who knows too much to argue or to judge must be pretty amazing. So, I keep it in the back of my mind and take tiny steps toward it.

What does any of this have to do with Thailand? I think Matt would agree that we’ve both, possibly unintentionally, made huge steps toward a more adult, more whole version of ourselves. We’ve experienced some of the absolute high points of our lives here, and some of the all time low points. The important thing to me, is that we’ve done it together and helped each other all along the way.

That’s the thing about travel. Every single time, I come back a little different from the way I was. But this time, I think Matt and I both are coming back with an appreciation for the way we were.

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Making the Most

Well, Jaime and I are entering our last full month of living and teaching in Thailand… and what an adventure it’s been.  The last day of work at our school will be March 30th and from then on we’ll spend just under two weeks travelling and getting our last glimpses of the country we’ve called home for the past six months.  Then, on April 12th, we’ll be heading home to the US.

With the little amount of time we have left, we’re trying to make the most out of it.  We shared an interesting moment several weeks ago when we realized that we were getting a little too negative about our hometown of Chonburi and our situation here.  It seemed to dawn on both of us at the same time that we simply aren’t the kind of people who sit around griping and complaining about things… we’re the kind of people who get moving making the situation better.

So… we bought BIKES!  When we first arrived in Thailand, we thought for sure that we’d buy road bikes for getting around.  But we somehow talked ourselves out of it, since bikes around here can be expensive and public transportation is so readily available.  But there is something way more enjoyable about biking your way around a city than being crammed into overcrowded buses and song-tows.  So we finally bought our bikes and immediately found ourselves exploring parts of the city we had never ventured to before.  We went to the new local markets, tasted new foods, found beautiful places to watch the sunset, and generally found ourselves enjoying our city way more than we had in months.  It gave us a brand new attitude and new appreciation for our town.

But that didn’t mean that we were curtailing our travel plans, though.  In fact, last weekend, we took one of the most enjoyable weekend trips of our entire time here.  The destination was Kanchanaburi, a town about 3 hours west of Bangkok.  Jaime & I had actually been to Kanchanaburi twice before (once for our CIEE orientation, where we road elephants for the first time, and another time right after New Years).  But on both these trips, we were unable to find time to explore the best attraction Kanchanaburi has to offer: the gorgeous seven-tiered waterfalls of Erawan National Park.

Jaime relaxing in the hammock at Jolly Frog Hostel

We were joined on this excursion by a motley crew of wonderful friends.  First, Hannah and Alana, two fellow CIEE-ers who we met at teacher orientation our first week in Thailand, plus their awesome friend Katherine, another teacher from Colorado.  Second, a new friend Peter, who is a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend of Jaime’s, who happened to be travelling around Southeast Asia.  Amazingly, we also met up with two other teachers, a couple named James and Laura who are originally from Boone, NC… and Laura actually went to high school  in Summerville with Krista & Grayson Dorr, who of our good friends from Charleston.  It’s a small friggin’ world.

Waterfall Paradise

We found lodging in Kanchanaburi at the delightful Jolly Frog hostel (pronounced “Jorry Fog” for motorbike taxi and song-tow drivers), located on the river and a short walk from Kanchanaburi’s awesome restaurants and fun bars.  We hung out the first night, trading lots of teaching stories and enjoying the wonderful company.  The next morning, we headed out early for Erawan National Park.  We spend the day hiking up seven tiers of waterfalls, each more incredible than the last, jumping into the clear pools of water, escaping from fish trying to bite our feet, watching monkeys run around in the trees, and enjoying being in such a beautiful natural place.  And we weren’t alone: the park was packed with Thai and Europeans in their bathings suits, looking for a reprieve from the hot temperatures.

Natural Happiness

We spent another night hanging out with our awesome group of friends at our hostel, before heading back home to Chonburi the next morning.  Since then, we’ve been continuing to make the most out of the time we have left here in Thailand.  Case in point, we’re taking off this weekend for another visit to the island paradise of Kho Samet, which we first visited last October.  Then a weekend in Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand.  Then a weekend in Khao Yai, the biggest national park in Thailand…

So next time you want to complain, don’t.  Instead, get movin’….

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Celebration of love..twice!

Thought I should do a quick post on what turned out to be an incredible Valentine’s! We had to come into work this weekend, so we went to Bangkok last weekend and celebrated Valentine’s then. We had an amazing time, great food, and saw some cool sights we’ve been wanting to see…

We had a great time, but spent too much money…so we decided we wouldn’t do anything crazy on Valentine’s Day. But, since Matt basically planned the whole Bangkok trip (and got me flowers from the flower market that are still going strong in our apartment), I wanted to plan something for him, too! So I found this really nice restaurant in a nearby town called Sriracha. Right after school we hopped on a bus and made our way to the restaurant. It was sooooooo nice! We both agreed it was the nicest place we’ve eaten in Thailand. Everything was so delicious and amazing…

Unfortunately, by the time we finished and were ready to head home the buses had already stopped running to our town. We ended up having to charter a song-tow (300 baht vs. a 30 baht bus ride!!)….but all was well. We got home and watched our annual Valentine’s Harold and Maude movie.

We enjoyed both of our Valentine’s celebrations so much…a nice little reminder of how happy we are to share these experiences together.

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Alai-Nah??

After a funny day at school, I realized we have not written one blog post about our students and teaching. To be honest, that’s partially because on most days, all we could write would be complaints. And no one likes complaining. In fact, on most days, as soon as we leave school we try to forget about it….

But today, at least for me, seemed to be filled with funny-only-in-Thailand type moments. I have given an assignment to my matthayom 2-4 students to make presentations on something we’ve learned about this year. It’s to test their English skills, and also review what we’ve learned before our exams. So, Monday the students started presenting. Most students made a powerpoint, and some students made old school posterboards- (I told them either was fine). Of course, with the powerpoints, there was blatant evidence of copy & pastage from wikipedia. Some of them had slides that said “Figure A shows..blahblah” …with no picture. Some of them had words so large I don’t even know how to decode them…

One student decided not to do anything. In fact, I’m pretty sure this student didn’t even know he was supposed to do anything. So, today after EVERYone in his class had gone I told him he had to go. He went up the front, pulled up microsoft paint, and drew a heart. This is all without talking. Then he says, “I teach about heartburn. Heartburn is…..alai nah? alai nah? bad.” (Alai nah? is what?? in Thai. The students say it all the time)…..I just couldn’t stop laughing….

With the younger, Matthayom 1 students today I taught about peer pressure. After I taught, I told them to do a skit acting out either positive or negative peer pressure in groups. It ended up looking like WWF wrestling in my class. All of the groups went with negative peer pressure- (duh). After a few, alai nahs?? they were all just speaking in Thai and fake fighting. They were having so much fun, what could I do?? Let them play fight…

Of course, the language barrier always presents humor. The other day I was teaching about the layers of the Earth, and one student asked me–(or this is what I heard) “Teacha, are there demons inside the Earth?” I stood there for a minute. Blank stare. Then I said, “Umm….if you’re religion believes….” He stopped me. Everyone else in the class said, “No teacha, DEMONS”. Blank stare. Finally, someone looked it up on their Thai-English dictionary….

Diamonds. Oops…

-Jaime

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Thai Food 101

Ever since we got to Thailand, one of the most popular questions I get from people back home is about the food. Is it good? Is it like the food in the Thai restaurants in the States? Is it really spicy?….etc, etc. And the answer to all of those questions is: sometimes.

Since I am a committed vegetarian at the moment, I have tried really hard to avoid the chicken, pork, beef, and just plain mystery meat. I think? I have succeeded. Because I eat fish/seafood, I have been able to survive. Actually, if it weren’t for that, I really wouldn’t have survived. I thought that because Thailand is a buddhist country there would be an abundance of vegetarian food, but–like most assumptions, I was wrong!!

Most Thais actually eat noodles, chicken, and rice with everything! When you walk down any typical Thai street, you find a food stall selling at least one if not all of these things…One of my favorite parts of the day is early in the morning when we walk down our street to school and pass a food stall grilling up chicken. It’s so very Thai…always makes me smile.

As for Matt and I, we have come to LOVE a few dishes here. We get them regularly, (everyday). One that is really healthy and CAN be really spicy is som tom thai:

It is shredded papaya, tomatoes, peanuts, the Thai version of green beans, shredded carrots, these weird tiny dehydrated shrimps, and of course: hot chilis!

Our favorite Thai beer is Chang, mainly just because it is the cheapest:

But, if you go out to a restaurant, you’ll typically see Thais eating something like this:

This is called “American” fried rice. You’ll notice it has hot dog wieners in it. Pretty much anything with a hot dog wiener in it is called “American” over here…I guess we deserve that.

Another wonderful thing in the food world is the fruit. You can get amazing fresh fruit on the side of the street for 10 baht, which is like 25 cents.

One of my favorite dishes to have is Tom Yam Kung. “Kung” is the Thai word for “shrimp”. Tom Yam is a spicy soup (can get pretty spicy), but I think it is like a bowl of health. If I ever think I am getting a cold, I immediately eat some of this soup. It has mushrooms (Thai mushrooms, a little different, but good!), lemongrass, chilis, bay leaves, shrimp, and other forms of deliciousness I’m not sure of…

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are pretty much the same for Thais. That’s why the food cart on our street starts cooking chicken at 5:00 AM, because people eat chicken for breakfast. The other day I was teaching an 8:30 AM class, and one student was eating an entire corn on the cob in the back of the class. I called him out, and everyone thought he was in trouble, but basically I was just impressed that someone could have corn on the cob for breakfast…

So, Thai food isn’t necessarily what you would expect based on the shwanky Thai restaurants (although you can find that here, in bigger cities for a big chunk of change), but we don’t have anything to complain about in the food department. We have found some dishes that we will undoubtedly try to recreate when we get home, and some that we will avoid if we ever see them again (ha!). But the coolest thing about the Thai food is that we are still discovering it! There’s so much food I see here that I’m still not sure what it is…today my students made me try some sweet treat. We tried to figure out how to translate it…but decided there is no way to. It is some sweet, gooey, sticky stuff (but not rice) wrapped in banana leaves and cooked…

banana leaf ooey-gooey

Just don’t eat the white mystery meat balls….

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