A Christmas Story (and New Years too)

Christmas Day

Not sure how Christmas was already a month ago, but here I am! Somewhat early on in teaching we found out we had to work on Christmas Day. This was a pretty big bummer to me as I had heard from other teachers on our program that they had the day or even the whole week off from work. I guess this is one of things that comes with being pretty far North away from any major city. A few weeks before Christmas our principal asked me and the two other foreign teachers at my school (they’re from the Philippines) if we could plan Christmas games, dances and activities for Christmas afternoon. When she first asked this I was kind of confused, what does that even mean? That isn’t how we celebrate Christmas at home! Christmas is my favorite holiday, and I already knew I would be pretty homesick, so to be honest I was not really into the idea of playing “Christmas games” all afternoon. While there can be a disconnect at home between the religious holiday of Christmas and the traditions we use to celebrate it, the disconnect is about ten-fold here. We’re in a largely Buddhist country, yet they want to celebrate this Christian holiday?? While it is weird and definitely confused me, I just decided to embrace it and roll along with it. The week before Christmas, Teacher Sweet, Teacher Jo and I sat down to try to plan out the afternoon. We decided we would do caroling of some sort, play freeze dance with Christmas songs, and play a “banana eating game” (run by Teacher Jo) that they play in the Philippines. We also had to choreograph a dance, so we chose to do it to Feliz Navidad. Easy, fun, upbeat.

Fast forward to Christmas Day…Teacher Jo could not make it to school because of visa issues in Chiang Mai, and half of our 6 dancers were home sick. No more banana game. Also, Teacher Jo was also meant to M.C the whole afternoon with one of the Thai teachers (Teacher Wi) translating for her. So naturally, that morning they told me I would be MCing the whole shindig, complete with a Christmas “blessing/story” and all. Feeling a tad overwhelmed, I just took a deep breath and tried to laugh it off knowing that it would be a huge relief once it was all over. Since our dancers were absent, Sweet and I also decided we would have to substitute in the dance for them. While I do love to get down on a dance floor, dancing in front of my 300+ students and all of the teachers in school is absolutely not my idea of fun. But for your viewing pleasure, here’s a quick clip…

After the dance, I finished up MCing, and to my surprise I had a bit more fun than I expected. It was still completely ridiculous but I did enjoy myself a bit. They also had one of the teachers dress up like Santa Claus and throw little toys and trinkets to the kids and they went absolutely bonkers. All in all, it was okay.

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Me and my homeroom cuties

Emma and I decided that in an effort to have a little bit more of a special dinner, after the gym (never thought I’d be working out on Christmas), we would get dinner at this restaurant/club-like place in our town called December 17. I would say this experience was akin to that of the family in A Christmas Story when they go to the Chinese restaurant for Christmas Dinner. When we walked in, the waitresses were all dressed in short, scandalous Santa costumes and we quickly learned that almost no one spoke English. In the beginning they were playing some slow Christmas music over the stereo but it quickly changed to straight up sad music which was killing me on the inside. They ended up forgetting my meal, and then when it finally came they forgot to bring rice with the curry. Oyyyyyy. When we finally went to pay, they had charged us for peanuts, ice for the beer, our meals, extra for the rice and some random other charges. I tried explaining that they had forgotten my meal but it was pretty pointless and then they just kept apologizing for the peanuts which was really the least of our problems. Looking back on it, it was pretty comical but at the time I was definitely just wanting to be home eating Grandma’s Christmas shrimp, yummy vegetables and baked brie. The blaring stereos, Christmas costumes and strobe lights were a little much for me.

The rest of the week went by pretty quickly, and on Friday we had a New Years celebration at school. Everyone in the school brought in a small gift that cost around 50 baht, and each gift got numbered and put into the auditorium. At the end of the day, each class went up and one by one picked a number. The oldest students would then retrieve the gifts and everyone would have a fun surprise to open up! I bought a small box of chocolate and some Pocky and my gift was a box of chocolate covered wafers (which I’m keeping in my desk for when my students are extra good). After school was over, we did the same with all of the teachers, but the budget was 250 Baht each. We did the same thing where we numbered the gifts and then picked a number. I was hoping to get one of these giant pillows since my bed is huge and pretty boring, and luckily I got a huge spiderman pillow!! It’s pretty intense but has been really sweet to have. I’ll be sad to part ways with it when I move out of my apartment. Also, just picture me riding home on my small bike with this huge pillow stuffed half in my basket and half falling out (lol).

On Saturday afternoon, we got the direct bus from our town to Chiang Mai to celebrate New Years!! Our bus ride was a little longer than usual due to lots of traffic in Chiang Mai but nevertheless we got there safe and sound. On the bus, I watched Everest and I rate it 10/10. Might’ve shed a few tears but a great story and beautiful film. Once we got there, we had the rest of the day to chill so we walked around and explored some temples that we hadn’t seen yet. One of the coolest parts about Chiang Mai is that within the old city, there are beautiful, old temples everywhere. Any direction you walk, you’ll come across a different temple. The old city is also totally walkable, which is super nice after a long bus ride. That night for dinner, we met up with Garrett and Katrina, a couple from our town, for dinner at “Miguels”. A restaurant recommended to us by some friends and from our  trusty pal, Trip Advisor. It was soooooo yummy. I honestly miss Mexican food more than any other food (I think). Will definitely be making the trip to Burlington for El Gato and seeking out some new Mexican spots in New York if anyone wants to join!

New Years Eve

The next day we wanted to do something outdoors and fun so we decided to try to head to Doi Inthanon, one of the national parks in Chiang Mai, and also the tallest spot in Thailand. We had to ask around a fair amount, and ended up paying a little bit of a steep price, but were able to get a songthaew to take us there and back for the day. It was pretty far outside the city, but worth it to get some fresh air and be able to hike something! When we got there, we had to hire a local guide to take us through the trail for 200 baht. Paying these guides helps them to support their families, local business and to protect the nature in the park. Our guides name was Yong Yeung and although he spoke no English, we exchanged smiles and I was able to ask him his name and tell him how beautiful the park was.

Quick lesson:

Khun chu arai kha? – What is your name?

Suay- Beautiful

The “hike” was pretty short but it was lovely to get outside and be able to feel away from a city and in nature for once. The trail we hiked was called the Mae Pan trail. It was super super foggy, but I found the fog to be amazing anyways. From the top, we could see the two temples at the top of the mountain, and afterwards we were able to grab a shuttle to see the temples themselves. The two chedis are on the main road to the summit of Doi Inthanon. One is called Naphamethinidon, meaning ‘by the strength of the land and air’, and the other is called Naphaphonphumisiri, meaning ‘being the strength of the air and the grace of the land’. These temples were built to honour the 60th birthday anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 1987, and the 60th birthday anniversary of Queen Sirikit in 1992. They were really beautiful and it felt pretty special to be able to go here.

After we saw the chedis, we headed up to the tippy top to the famous sign that designates the highest point in Thailand. After a quick snapshot, we headed back to our songthaew to start the trip back to Chiang Mai. It’s always a treat getting to catch the sunset in a songthaew, and this was our last sunset of 2017.

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After we got back, we got ready to meet up with our friend Kirsten who was visiting for New Years and a few of her friends in her hostel. First we headed to our favorite restaurant in Chiang Mai, “The Cat House” (has absolutely nothing to do with cats thank goodness, sorry cat lovers). I had a delicious falafel plate and the best cocktails I’ve had in Thailand so far. Will definitely be going back here when I end in Chiang Mai. After, we met up with friends and had a few drinks and got ready to head out to see the lanterns close to midnight. Seeing the lanterns in Chiang Mai was probably one of the most magical things I have ever seen. It is straight off the cover of a Lonely Planet guidebook. It was truly stunning. We bought our own lantern from a lady on the side of the street and headed towards Tha Pae Gate. As we were walking, you could just see hundreds and hundreds of lanterns floating up into the sky. There were also lots of people struggling to light them, and quite a few crashed into trees, powerlines and the river. We were DETERMINED to succeed in lighting our lantern, but as we started, it proved to be more difficult than in looked. Out of nowhere came this somewhat aggressive American woman, as Emma calls her ‘lantern goddess’ and she got us all set and helped us get our lanterns going. She had us get all the way on the ground to allow the hot air to fill up the lantern and then as it filled up we stood up until it felt like the lantern was pulling and then we let it go. It was stressful, but so exciting, and we watched as our little lantern floated up into the sky at midnight full of our wishes for the upcoming year and surrounded by the millions of other wishes being sent into the air that night. It was really amazing and definitely falls into the top 3 moments I have had here in Thailand so far. So happy.

January 1st, 2018

We started the new year off on a beautiful note, by heading to a yoga class. We went to Freedom Yoga, a cute quiet yoga studio right outside the city but still walking distance from our guesthouse. Our class was filled with a lot of other foreigners, but our teacher was this amazing flexible and encouraging Thai woman. She was a beast!! Her body was bending in ways I did not know was possible, but most of our class seemed to be on the same page and giggled as she had us try some crazy poses. Her assists were amazing too. It was so nice to go to a real yoga class, another thing I am definitely missing here in Thailand. I left the studio feeling very content and happy with myself. One of my new year’s resolutions is to be more self-aware and to be happy with myself and not let my brain wander a million different ways. I find myself worrying a lot and yoga really helps me to calm down and recenter myself (as well as do amazing things for my body). After yoga, we walked around a bit more, came across a few more temples, and found ourselves at “A Taste of Heaven”, a popular vegetarian spot. I had Khao Sow, a traditional northern Thai noodle dish that was delicious. We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool, getting pedicures and having yummy fruit smoothies from Khun Kae’s juice bar, a must-go in Chiang Mai. My new year started on a healthy, happy, relaxing note, and I can only hope that my beautiful New Years Eve/ first day of 2018 is a glimpse of what the upcoming year will hold for me.

 

 

Thanksgiving in Thailand

This past week was Thanksgiving and the first time in my life I was away from home for a major holiday. I found that being away really made me reflect on gratitude and my Thailand experience thus far. I’ve heard a lot of my teacher friends/people on my program say this, but you don’t really realize how much you cherish family time during the holidays until you aren’t able to be there *cue Don’t Know What You Got by Cinderella*. I woke up on Thursday morning knowing that it was Thanksgiving, but meanwhile at home some of my high school friends were all just getting ready to head out for a fun night on the town the night before. Thursday drudged by, and I found myself feeling very homesick. In an attempt to distract myself and have fun, I decided to teach my afternoon classes about Thanksgiving! First, I showed them a short video about the origin of Thanksgiving (thank you, youtube cartoons), and while I could tell they had no idea what was going on, they found the pilgrims to be very funny. After I realized there was no way to simply explain where Thanksgiving comes from, I moved on to teaching them about food. As soon as I put the photos on the T.V. of Thanksgiving dinner, there were ooo’s and ahh’s around the room. Salivating, I pointed to each item of food on the table and told them what it was. In classic Thai fashion they repeated everything I said, right down to the “yummy”! When I pointed to the turkey, they all yelled “chicken”! I had no idea, but they don’t have turkey here! As we were looking at all of this delicious food, I couldn’t help but think of how I would be eating rice, veggies and an egg for dinner that night, still delicious but not quite the Thanksgiving feast I was missing. After the food, I showed them clips from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in 2016. They LOVED the big balloons, especially Angry Bird and some of the Disney balloons. At the end of class, we talked about how the most important part of Thanksgiving is giving thanks for all of the blessings in our lives. When they didn’t understand that, I simplified it to “we say thank you for our friends, we say thank you for our food, we say thank you for our family” and they seemed to understand!

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“Teacha selfie!!!”

Teaching my students about Thanksgiving really made me reflect on what I am grateful for, and how my gratitude has changed this year being here instead of at home. Here are a few of the things I thought about this Thanksgiving:

  1. Clean tap water back at home- This might sound silly, but this was something I totally took for granted in Vermont, New Hampshire and definitely New York. You really don’t think about it until you can no longer brush your teeth with the tap water for fear of getting sick (the water can be brown sometimes)!! At first I found it so extremely annoying and frustrating to have to use bottled water every time I brushed my teeth, but as I got used to it, I realized just how lucky I am to have clean tap water to drink back home. Which brings me to my next one…
  2. The luxuries I am able to have here in Thailand- who would have thought that it would be a luxury to have a seated toilet! While my room is tiny, it has way more amenities than I ever expected! I have an air conditioner, wi-fi, and a small refrigerator. In addition, I am making a great salary for Thailand, and am able to afford small things like iced coffee in the morning, laundry delivery, water delivery and weekend trips out of town.
  3. Having this experience in general- This is without a doubt the most outside my comfort zone I have felt in my life. Arriving to a new town where almost no one speaks English, and only being shown where my apartment and school were was daunting to say the least. I had a really hard time in the beginning and wondered if this was really where I am meant to be. But as time has gone on and I have begun to settle in more, I have begun to reflect more on how incredibly lucky I am to have an experience like this. At 22 years old, I can say I travelled to Asia for the first time and moved to a small town in Northern Thailand to teach English to children ages 3 to 11 for a few months. How cool is that!? Sometimes if I’m feeling frustrated with my students or frustrating trying to find a meatless dinner, I remind myself how privileged I am to be here in the first place and it is all part of the experience of living outside my comfort zone.
  4. My support system- All of that being said there is NO WAY I could do this without the amazing support system I have both here and back at home. I already knew this, but being away for Thanksgiving reminded me of how lucky I am to have the most incredible family. My parents forever inspire me to push myself and be the best I can be, and hearing their encouragement and that they are proud of me is what got me through the first rough few weeks here. Being able to talk to my siblings, aunts, grandparents and cousins has reminded me that even when I’m as far away as possible, I have an amazing team cheering me on from back home that thinks about me just as much as I think about them. What a beautiful feeling to have. My friends, holy cow, my friends. I think being so far away can definitely be a reality check to some relationships, but how did I get so lucky to have friends that care and support me from all over the place. Every day I find myself snapchatting, texting, or talking on various forms of social media to people all the way back home, or in Australia or New Zealand or Canada or England and I say to myself “wow, I am one lucky girl”. I teared up on Thanksgiving as a friend told me she was so proud of me and always rooting for me back at home, I was so excited to know that next year at this time, I’ll be reunited with my best friends from High School for our 5 year reunion and I am ecstatic that one of my best friends from college and Theta will be coming to visit in February and I’ll be able to share part of my Thailand experience with her. Friends, if you are reading this, just know that every text, comment, message, feedback on my blog, meme tag, EVERYTHING, makes every day a little bit easier for me. Sending all my love to all of you. And of course the best friend a gal could ask for here with me. I really would not be able to do this crazy thing without my gal Emma. On the tough days, she’s here to listen to me vent about the craziness at school, or give me a hug when the homesickness is hitting hard, and on the amazing days she is right there beside me in awe of this wonderful country and all of the beauty it holds. She is the best adventure pal I could ever ask for and I am so so lucky we are on this magnificent journey together.
  5. Technology- Facetime, Instagram, iMessage, email, snapchat- it’s all made me feel a little closer to home. So keep it up 🙂 How crazy we live in a world where we can talk to someone on the opposite side of the world with just a click of a button!

This Thanksgiving, I truly felt blessed, loved, and so incredibly privileged. Yes, I was more homesick than I even knew was possible (and not looking forward to Christmas for the same reasons) but it also reminded me of how happy and lucky I am to be living this life. A good friend reminded me that there will always be more Thanksgivings to celebrate but right now I am here really living. I am doing my best, pushing myself and making memories I will cherish and talk about for the rest of my life. For now, I am enjoying every day, and looking forward to being reunited with the ones I love to share stories and pictures of this incredible place, and hear all about life at home. Happy belated Thanksgiving, hug those you love extra tight and indulge in that apple pie, just say you’re having a slice for me!

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”- Marcel Proust

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What an incredible place