On not really doing this by myself, after all.

I came to Thailand to teach all on my own. I’d heard of people doing this sort of thing with their best friends or significant other (or even their entire family), but I decided to go by my lonesome. Why? Because I am a strong, self-sufficient woman who don’t need nobody! Nuh-uh! ~sass~

Of course, I was wrong. Thailand is hard. Solo-Thailand is even harder, especially if you’re in it for a whole year. The words are hard to say, the streets are hard to navigate, and the street food is hard to distinguish. Is it fish? Is it chicken? Oh, it’s chicken colon? And worms, too? Wonderful.

Somehow these moments seem less brutal when someone's there to suffer with you.

Silkworms y'all.

Silkworms y'all.

Thankfully, even though I went into this without knowing what the heck I was getting into, I am doing this through a pretty great program. CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) has partnered up with Thailand’s OEG (Overseas Ed Group), and both organizations have graciously guided each participating teacher through the hectic process.

Those in charge of CIEE and OEG are doing a wonderful job making us feel welcome and have helped the initial transitory period much easier. They organized short rounds of teacher training, little excursions to the Grand Palace and Kanchanaburi, and taught us that 555 is the lol equivalent in Thai.

What they did best though, was place me with three of the most wonderful farangs America has to offer. I am biased. But I do not care.

Me and my roommates at the grand opening of some bar we do not know the name of because we cannot read Thai.

Me and my roommates at the grand opening of some bar we do not know the name of because we cannot read Thai.

I’m in Chanthaburi with three other ladies from all over the states. Samantha’s from New Orleans and shuffles her tarot deck around in the mornings. Sarah’s from Raleigh/NYC and bursts into celebratory pirouettes around town. Connaught’s from Boston and does a mean impression of our super-animated boss. Seriously. We've told her to stop doing it because we’re scared the sounds will creep into our dreams.

We live together in a giant house with a washing machine and rats having conversations in our walls. We don’t have a kitchen but we do have a fridge and Sam’s hammock and a lady who wakes us up in the mornings with her 3-hour sweeping sessions. I timed her. The leaves are still curiously there at all times.

Our beautiful Chanthaburi home. Check those leaves.

Our beautiful Chanthaburi home. Check those leaves.

Together we've gotten kidnapped by our Thai coordinators and been force-fed some of the most delicious foods we otherwise would've had no clue existed. Together we've met the mayor of our town, and together we tried to get our passport photos taken but ended up with this masterpiece instead:

We asked if we could show our teeth, and then we chose not to listen.

We asked if we could show our teeth, and then we chose not to listen.

The four of us explore our temporary home, climbing up nearby waterfalls and pretending that swimming with fish doesn't weird us out one bit. We discover hot spots in our neighborhood, even if it means accidentally sitting through a Battle of the Bands metal show or getting so ridiculously lost we start bickering. We travel with each other around the country, figuring out how to get from point A to point B without losing our way or getting overcharged.

Yeah, I could've done all that by myself, but I am so happy I didn’t have to.

Eating your feelings after a rough first day of school doesn't seem so sad if you're with company.

Eating your feelings after a rough first day of school doesn't seem so sad if you're with company.

Because it’s so good to have partners in crime when you’re in a country this foreign. So good to have someone to talk to at the end of the day, to bitch about that boy who won’t stop cutting his toenails with scissors or to rave about how one of your classes finally (finally!) went well. Small victories can turn into the grandest ones when you live with those in the same boat as you are.

Our krathongs floated across the lake together and it was beautiful.

Our krathongs floated across the lake together and it was beautiful.

Telling your stories to friends and family back home won’t ever fully capture the weight of how those moments actually played out. They’ll never really get the shock that came with opening the door to your dingy hostel bungalow and discovering a fresh litter of kittens tucked under your mattress. Or the humor of your coordinator constantly popping up with presents for you at-the-ready. You’ll get the gist out there, sure. But, like much of life, the intimacies of teaching abroad are made up of those “you had to be there” moments. And my roommates are there. They get it.

Coming home to a house full of life has been a highlight of my worst days and has humbled my experience just a bit more. I am so grateful to have these three in this chapter of my life. I might have come here on my own, but I know for certain these ladies and I are in this together.

Krathing Waterfall at Khao Khitchakut National Park with my roommates.

Krathing Waterfall at Khao Khitchakut National Park with my roommates.

 

Thailand: A Love Affair

Like most broke, post-grad, i’m-scared-of-the-future-lol millenials, I have mad commitment issues, yo.

How can I commit to something (or someone, or somewhere) for a significant amount of time when I’m ~*~not sure of who I am yet~*~? Shouldn't I use this time to bounce from one job to another, from one lover to the next? You know, so I can, like, figure things out? Find out what/who/where I vibe with the most?

I did that right out of graduation. It did not work out. I went from shadowing a sex book writer to writing contracts for a self-proclaimed real estate guru to running part of the Boys and Girls Club. I kinda-dated-mostly-slept-with a kundalini Yoga Boy right after kinda-dating an overly-philosophical Harvard grad.

But after them, I actually-dated someone I genuinely vibed with. Someone I'd still consider a big presence in my life. He taught me that if you’re trying to figure stuff out, you've got to at least make sure you’re doing it with something/someone of substance, and that you’re moving in the right direction.

And so began my new, committed, one-year love affair with this beauty called Thailand. There's no turning back from this one. Lucky for me, we're just a few weeks in, and I’m already falling hard.

She’s taken me to an elephant sanctuary in Kanchanaburi, made me limbo under a stick of flames in Koh Samet, and given me a glimpse at her fascinating, beautiful history at the Grand Palace.

The Grand Palace, a sight for sore eyes.

The Grand Palace, a sight for sore eyes.

We celebrated Loy Krathong together, a full-moon festival in November where you float a flower arrangement down a river to wish bad energies away while paying respect to the water spirits of the land. It was beautiful, there were families holding a single krathong and reciting prayer before setting it loose. We released lanterns into the air, making wishes as they floated into the sky. Already I'm finding myself deeply connected to Thailand’s cultural traditions.

We've fallen asleep on the beach together after rounds and rounds of pina coladas. She's given me full-body massages after a long day and continues to brew me magical tea to aid my pains. Most importantly, she’s shown me that it’s not a bad thing to smile your way through life.

Lanterns at Loy Krathong. Image by Connaught O'Brien.

Lanterns at Loy Krathong. Image by Connaught O'Brien.

“Mai pen rai,” she says. “It means ‘no worries,’ or ‘thank you,’ or ‘fuck it, everything’s gonna be just fine.’”

Her admirable attitude is one I hope to affect my own.

But Thailand is not without her faults. Ah, quite the contrary. She doesn't exactly smell like a bed of clean sheets. She’s made me sweat in places I didn't think were possible and has shown me parts of her I can never un-see. (I’m talking about the bugs, you guys, not the ping-pong shows—which I’m sure are equally horrifying and impressive.) She cooks the same dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner but she tells me that if I want to live below my means, then I must eat my meals as so.

In order for us to do this year together, I've had to get myself some work. I’m teaching at a public elementary school in Chanthaburi, one of her quaint cities along the eastern seaboard.

We argue a lot about our views on education. Students aren't allowed to fail, so they can keep taking and re-taking their exit exams until they pass. And if they keep failing? Well, the teachers eventually give ‘em the answers cos they’re sick of dealing with the same kids.

The local teachers are quick to point out the “kids with really low IQ,” trying to explain why some students are forced to sit in the back corner of the room. I don’t think this is fair. They’re so far away from the exhilarating experience that is me as a teacher!

Some of my kids from Prathom 4.

Some of my kids from Prathom 4.

As much as I dislike Thailand’s ways on public education, she’s right when she lets me know that I’m the outsider here, and it’s not my place to change the system.

“Mai pen rai,” she tells me. “Don’t worry.”

I consider this her way of telling me that while she’s happy to have me around, she knows I will never be able to seriously impact the children she’s put in my life. Maybe not right away, at least. Maybe it takes more time than I had expected.

But bugs and new-job-stress aside, I’m really taking a liking to Thailand.

I met her with no expectations, and so far she’s blown me away. She’s strengthening me in ways no one has ever done before—challenging my mind without putting me down, making me feel as if the work I put into this will actually shape me into a better person. I’m growing with her. I’m figuring things with her, instead of completely on my own. I'd say this is the most successful partnership I've ever been in.

The thought of what’s in store for us is both terrifying and exciting. We have yet to explore the waves of the Andaman Sea, sleep in tree houses up north and throw buckets of water at strangers during Thai New Year. But that will all happen in due time. We’re in this for at least a whole year. And Thailand must not worry -- I'll be here 'till the end.

Day 0 in Thailand: First Impressions

(I consider this day 0 because my perception of time just does not exist after traveling for more than 25 hours. And it's late at night and orientation doesn't start unil tomorrow. Today is my limbo!)

The Bangkok airport is incredible. The outside is a metallic, industrial wonder that looks like a giant iron centipede ready to battle some dinosaur-sized transformer or fly off into space. I half-expected to walk inside and see the employees in jumpsuits and giving me the Vulcan salute. I had no such luck.

bkkairport

(photo courtesy of Travel Life Magazine)

Instead, I walked into a garden. Seriously, the walls were lined with beautiful greenery and flowers and they were everywhere. I wish I had taken a picture, but I’m sure this won’t be the only time I’m in BKK. I hope not.

The ride to the CIEE orientation hotel wasn't as scary as some people made it seem. People drive on the left side and their advertisements usually had both Thai and Latin characters. I realized then that there’s a very low chance of me mastering the Thai written language. Each character looks like glitchy astrological symbols.

After settling in, my orientation roommate and I braved the sticky Bangkok streets looking for some water and a quick bite to eat. Lucky for us, street food takes up most of the sidewalks and there are three 711s within 50 steps away from one another.

padthai1

We got pad thai cooked right in front of us by a real sweet man. Crucial phrases I now must learn after dealing with this man: 1) “Not too spicy, please.” 2) “How much is it?" and 3) “How much is it really?”

Thankfully I am magical at miming things and got our food for the real cost of 40 bhat instead of the 50 he was asking for. That’s about $1.25. Side note: some ladies at the airport told me they accidentally bought coffee for 24 USD. What. ?!?! Maybe I’m wrong to always doubt the prices, but hey, you won’t catch me spending that much on coffee.

The food was wonderful and left me sticky and full. I had left Los Angeles just over 30 hours ago with Chipotle in my stomach and the lingering taste of a nice, dark hemp beer in my mouth (an appropriate last meal). Now I’m going to bed in Bangkok smelling like sweat and spicy peanut sauce, hoping I don’t get the poops.*

 I’d say my first night was success. Thailand, I’m ready for you.

 

 

*I did, indeed, wake up in the middle of the night to poop. But it was of admirable descent so I think we’re in great shape. Yay Thai food!