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

Chiang Mai: Part 1

A few weekends ago we went on our first weekend adventure to Chiang Mai. After settling in the weekend before, and teaching for a full week, it was time to explore a bit outside our town and get a feel for how far different cities are from us. Chiang Kham, the town where I live and teach, is about a 3.5 hour drive from Chiang Mai, which is really not too bad! Unfortunately, the last bus to Chiang Mai leaves at 12 pm on Fridays, and since school does not end until 4pm, we can’t catch the direct bus which is kind of a bummer. Instead, we took a local bus to Chiang Rai (about 2 hours away), and then switched to a larger coach-size bus for the journey from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai which is about 3 more hours. By the time we arrived in Chiang Mai, it was 10 pm on Friday night, and we had spent about 5 hours on bus rides. The plus side to this (like many other things) was that it was extremely cheap and until the sun set we were able to see some gorgeous scenery! Our first bus ride was 38 baht and the second one was 166 baht, making for a total of 204 baht, not a bad way to travel!

Once we arrived at the bus station,we got an über and headed to the hostel we would stay in for the next two nights. We stayed at the S*Trips Poshtel in the Chiang Klan Subdistrict of Chiang Mai. Definitely the nicest hostel I have ever stayed in! We paid $17 each for 2 nights which included a lock and key for the locker, towels, breakfast vouchers, wifi and a bed in a Woman’s dorm with AC! Great bang for your buck. The room and the bathrooms were both extremely clean, and the AC was great as it can get very hot in Chiang Mai. We actually ended up being in a room full of all CIEE gals, which was a nice coincidence. The hostel was recommended to us by some of them, and I would definitely recommend it to others in the future!

We hadn’t had dinner yet when we arrived, so we ventured out to find some food but almost nothing was open by 11:30 PM! Our options were McDonalds and 7-11! I opted to grab some McDonalds (which is occasionally a guilty pleasure of mine) and Emma got ramen from 7-11. After our search for food, we headed back to the hostel to get a good nights sleep after a loooong first week of teaching.

The next morning we woke up and headed to a restaurant I had found online before we got to Chiang Mai called Rustic & Blue. Again, we got an über since it was a bit far from where we were staying, and were pleasantly surprised to get dropped off at a cute little street full of small ice cream shops and restaurants that seemed to be right up our alley. Rustic & Blue was amazing, probably my favorite meal I have had so far in Thailand. I had an iced dirty chai, and a peanut butter and chocolate bowl and it was so delicious. The chic ambiance and friendly staff was a great way to start my Saturday, and I definitely look forward to going back there in the future. They were even playing the Head and the Heart! Mom and Dad, if you visit we will definitely go here!

After brunch, we walked around a bit and came across a cute shop called Chabaa which had beautiful dresses, shirts, pants and jewelry all handmade in Thailand. It was a little on the pricey side but I got a beautiful dress that I cannot wait to wear at some point! I love how intricate some of the designs here are and how there is always so much color wherever you go. Will probably also be going back there in the next few months!

Then we headed up to our first temple of the day, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, or sometimes just called Doi Suthep. The temple is at the top of a mountain, and it was about a half an hour car ride to the top! Not a bad car ride, but the roads are so windy, I was feeling SO carsick! When we got out of our über, this little boy quickly approached us and showed us around. Even though he didn’t speak English, and we don’t speak much Thai, we enjoyed each other’s company for the few minutes we were together. The temple is said to have been built in 1383, but a road to the temple was not built until 1935. Over the years more and more has been added to the temple making it quite extravagant and ornate, and the views of Chiang Mai from the temple are breathtaking. Worth the 309 sweaty steps to the top! One of my favorite parts of Thailand so far has been learning about the ancient history behind these gorgeous temples, cities and places. It is a beautiful thing for a country to share so much of its rich history with the rest of the world, and coming from America, such a young country, I feel awestruck looking at these gorgeous places that have been around for thousands of years.

The next temple we went to was Wat Chedi Luang, or the elephant temple. This temple was located closer to the center to Chiang Mai and was so different from Doi Suthep! Wat Chedi Luang had a much older feeling to it. It appeared old and worn down, which to me in a way made it feel more loved and used. It was built in Lanna-style (the Lanna ) in 1441 and housed the Emerald Buddha which has since moved to Wat Phra Kaew, part of the Grand Palace grounds in Bangkok. There is now a jade replica of the Buddha at the top of the temple. One reason this temple appears older, besides the style of the building is that in the top of the chedi (an alternate to the word stupa which means an area dedicated to Buddha), was destroyed by either a 16th century earthquake or by cannon fire during the recapture of Chiang Mai by the Burmese in 1775 (kind of cool, huh?) . My favorite part of this temple were the majestic stone elephants that stand towards to top of the temple. This beautiful place was unlike any other temple or building I have ever seen, and would definitely recommend it as a must to anyone traveling to Chiang Mai.

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View of Wat Chedi Luang. If you look closely you can see the jade replica in the doorway at the top. It was such a beautiful day!

After our day full of temples, we were lucky enough to meet up with a fellow UVM grad and his girlfriend for a nice dinner! We decided to walk to dinner because it didn’t seem too far from our hostel, but I am still not used to the weather and was profusely sweating by the time we got there (lol). Still adjusting to the humid and hot Thai climate! They had been staying in/around Chiang Mai for a few weeks, so it was great to hear about what they had been up to and what we have to look forward to. Then after, we met up with a family friend of mine who has been living in Chiang Mai for two years (!!!!!!), and hung out with a bunch of his Thai friends. We went to a Thai club-like place with them which was definitely unlike anything I had ever been to in my life. It started off as a show, and then slowly turned into a club where everyone got up and was dancing, then there was a DJ and some American music and then back to the stage for more performances. In addition, they were bringing out soup and fruit platters as this was all going on. Think of it like Broadway show turned NYC nightclub that serves food all within 45 minutes. So bizarre but also so cool to experience this part of Thai culture. It was really nice to end our weekend in Chiang Mai with some familiar faces and chat with people from home.

On Sunday morning we went to book our bus ticket back to Chiang Kham but somehow our bus was completely booked! We quickly decided to take the bus back to Chiang Rai instead and figured we could get a cab or something of the sort back to our town from there. I tried calling the bus company but every time the woman realized I did not speak Thai she hung up on me! Funny and frustrating, but luckily the nice man in 7-11 was able to help us out through some Tinglish (combination of Thai and English). After we finally had our bus tickets, we found another yummy restaurant called Fruit Pulse, pretty good but not quite Rustic and Blue. We had some time before our bus so we just hung around and relaxed, and ended our first weekend in Chiang Mai with a foot massage and a pedicure. We caught our bus back to Chiang Rai, and ended up getting an über from Chiang Rai to Chiang Kham. Shout out to über because I really don’t know what we would do without you so far!

The weekend was a success! It was nice to get away from our small town for a short period of time, explore somewhere new, and distract ourselves from the homesickness that sometimes can feel pretty overwhelming. I loved Chiang Mai, and we’re already looking forward to heading back in a few weeks to spend the day at Elephant Nature Park! Up next, updates on our town and my first Thanksgiving away from home.

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Me in front of Wat Chedi Luang! What a stunning temple. The elephants add such a magical touch to an already beautiful place. Now just to play and bathe some live elephants!

 

 

 

 

Finished with Week 1!

Wow, this first week in Chiangkham has been a whirlwind of emotions. We arrived very early, around 7AM on Friday, November 3rd, after our long, long, long, long bus ride. It ended up being around 12 hours, and while it wasn’t terrible, I definitely was feeling pretty exhausted after getting off. We met our coordinators at the bus stop, and they took us to where we would be living for the next few months. Emma and I are living in the same little house, but it is completely split in half, almost into two little apartments. The 3 other English teachers we came with from CIEE are living on the same property in a different house, and so are a few English teachers from the Philippines. My room is tiny, but pretty nice. Definitely better than I was expecting! I have a queen bed, a table with 2 chairs, a dresser, a fan, a refrigerator, seated toilet, shower head and hot water. There is also a little area in the back of the house to wash and dry dishes which is handy. Here’s some pictures so you can visualize!

 

After we unpacked, we were able to go to the local Tesco Lotus (Thai equivalent to Walmart) to get some things for our apartment. I bought a yoga mat (since I wasn’t able to bring mine with me), some cereal, fruit and crackers, tape to hang up my pictures, and a bunch of school supplies!

I hadn’t thought of it while we were there, but Bangkok definitely felt like a mix of a vacation and college orientation. It didn’t quite seem real that we were there to learn about teaching English and the job that we had signed a contract for for the next 5-ish months. My school’s semester goes from November 1st to March 16th. Schools here seem to be different than America in that they do not have any type of “school calendar” with days off, or the end of school listed. This is definitely stressful, but I am trying to use it as a way to learn how to go with the flow and live in the moment, but DEFINITELY something I am not used to.

My schools name is Sathitwittaya Chiangkham School or Sathit School for short. It’s about a 10 minute bike ride from my living accommodation, and right nearby the local Tesco Lotus , which is very convenient if I need to grab anything after school. The school is fun so far, I met two other Farang (Thai word for foreign) teachers, both from the Philippines and they have been super helpful filling me in on what colors to wear on what days, and other little tidbits about the school that I didn’t know yet. Turns out although I thought I would just be teaching kindergarten, I’m actually teaching all of the grades at the school! Pre-K all the way through P6, or 6th grade. That means I’m seeing around 300 students per week, in 19 different classes, meeting with every class only once a week (besides one class I see twice). This was definitely a terrifying revelation, but day by day it seemed less scary than the day before. It probably means I won’t learn all of my students names by the time I leave, but it does mean I get to work with all different ages and English levels which definitely a good experience to have for the future.

The language barrier is so real. At school, when trying to order dinner, when trying to pay our cell phone bills. Not a huge surprise since I had only been to Europe and the Caribbean before this, but it is definitely the largest language barrier I have ever experienced. My coordinator speaks some English, but has mostly directed me to my co-teacher for any questions I have. My co-teacher is so sweet, but sometimes our Thai/English conversations can be frustrating because I have no idea what is going on!!! Same thing happens when we try to order food. Emma is a vegetarian and I have been eating vegetarian for the most part since we have been here, but when we tell some of the street vendors “mang-sa-wi-rat” they just laugh or show us a head of lettuce. Luckily, we have found a few different vendors who will whip us up a fun surprise if we tell them, and they already recognize us since we are two of the very few Westerners in our town.

On that topic, since we don’t have a stove/toaster/oven of any kind, we eat dinner out almost every night. It was hard to navigate at first because it is so tempting to just order pad thai every time, but slowly we have been able to find other soup-like dishes or different types of veggie dishes. The closer we get to a routine, the better I feel about living so far away for the next 4ish months. That being said, even though we eat out almost every night, dinner is about $1. It’s usually around 30-40 baht for fried rice, soup, or a noodle dish, and the conversation is about 33 baht to every 1 American dollar. It can be so easy to fall into the trap of converting, but I think once I get my first paycheck it will be a little easier to think in baht. I also get free lunch at my school every day! Most days it’s white rice or noodles with some type of mystery meat, so I’ve resorted to eating the rice with a little bit of broth and soy sauce I bought at Tesco. Not the most diverse meal plan I’ve ever had, but it does the trick!

Just to give you an idea of how much things general cost:

Pad thai dinner- 40 baht or $1.20

Monthly unlimited data phone plan- 450 baht or $13

Iced latte- 30 baht or .90 cents

(I’ll write more about how much things cost as time goes on!)

While I’m still missing home a lot and sometimes feeling like March 16th is a long ways away, it has been getting easier as time goes by and my routine gets more sturdy. It’s excited to have fun things to look forward to on the weekends to get me through school during the week. Up next, first trip to Chiang Mai!

 

 

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Home for the next few months