The Homestretch

homestretch

It is very hard to believe we have made it to the homestretch– the final stage of teaching in Chiang Kham. There are exactly 11 days left until the end of the semester, and 12 days until we depart from Chiang Kham on a bus heading for Chiang Mai. Where the last 4 months went, I will never really know but here we are! In one of my last blog posts of my teaching career (yes, I do not foresee myself teaching again in the future), I’ll just break down a few of the notable things from the last month.

Weekends

The past month or so since I have written has been relatively quiet. When we arrived here, I was full of energy, ready to go on an adventure every weekend. We went to Chiang Mai a few times, played with elephants, went on a few hikes, explored neighboring towns and more. But, we soon realized that that is just all there is to do here for a weekend. Taking the bus to Chiang Mai is fun, but it is a real push to only have just over 30 hours there. I became okay with staying close to Chiang Kham, riding our bikes around to new temples, trying new and local food and trying to enjoy our small town!

Quiet down time on the weekends isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I enjoy waking up to no alarm (even though I seem to be only sleeping in to 7:30 these days), taking my time to get up and eat cereal, write in my journal, stretch and relax. On weekends I go for my run in the morning, or head to our local gym which is often empty on the weekend!

  • Running: Speaking of runs, I have been running here way more than I imagined. I’ve also begun to enjoy it way more than I ever did before, it feels like a lot less of a chore here for me. On Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, I head home and unwind a little and then set out for a run on the side roads near our house. The heat has proved to be a challenge, but I feel that I’ve learned so much about my body, my limits and just really enjoyed allowing myself to clear my head. While there are a few local runners around, I do get quite a few stares although now I think people are a little more used to the sweaty, blonde, American girl running past their houses and shops. I’ve also perfected the art of determining whether or not the dog 20 feet ahead of me will be friendly, and figuring out how to best maneuver if they may not be.
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The view from an evening run
  • Khao Soi: One of my favorite parts of the weekend is this cafe/restaurant place that we go to for Khao Soi. I would say we go almost every weekend at this point. Khao Soi is a Northern Thai dish made of deep-fried crispy egg noodles, boiled egg noodles, greens,shallots,lime ground chilis, fried egg, and a curry-like sauce with coconut milk. I find it pretty neat that this dish is only really served in Northern Thailand and almost not at all in Thai restaurants elsewhere. The restaurant is only open until 4 pm, so we can’t have it during the week, but it kind of makes it into a special treat! The restaurant also has really yummy raspberry smoothies which we haven’t found anywhere else in our town. This is probably one of the few dishes I will really miss when we leave Chiang Kham.

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    Complete with a raspberry smoothie
  • Mo’s Cooking School: A popular tourist attraction in Thailand are the cooking schools that are located all over Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Bangkok, the Islands and more. A few months ago, our beloved Mo, the woman who has essentially become our host mother here, asked if we would like her to teach us how to cook some of our favorite meals before we leave. Mo and her husband own the small “restaurant” we eat at almost every night, and myself, Emma and our friend Chloe and Jacqui have tried almost every single thing on the menu between the 4 of us. Two of our go-tos are the green curry with tofu served with rice and pad-see-ew. We told Mo we would love to, and finally found a free day (last weekend). Mo told us to meet her at her place at 8 am so we could head to the market so at 8am we rolled up to Mos to be greeted by her and her daughter, Great. Great hopped on the back of Mo’s bike and the four of us biked together to the morning market in town. IMG_8129We walked around to the different vendors, and Mo helped us to wheel and deal for the best prices. We bought eggplant,egg tofu, basil (which had the most unbelievable smell), cauliflower, flat noodles, green curry paste and a few other miscellaneous supplies. We also got two coconuts to drink the water/juice/fresh coconut out of, and Mo’s husband chopped them open for us. We biked back to Mo’s and she told us to come back around 11 to start cooking for lunch. At 11 we headed back and Mo had a table outside for us all set up and ready to cook. First, she helped Emma to make the pad-see-ew. First, Emma cut up the fresh wide rice noodles we bought at the market and separated all the clumps. Then, she cut up the veggies according to Mo’s precise cutting instructions. We used kale and garlic I believe. Lastly, Mo turned on the wok, drizzled some oil, and cooked the noodles, kale, egg, egg tofu, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce and sugar. The soy sauce turns the noodles and egg the browish color which is signature of the dish. It cooked for just under 5 minutes and voila! Beautiful pad-see-ew!

Next it was time for me to cook the green curry. First, I cut up our veggies: eggplant           (first time I’ve had it in months!!!), more kale/collard greens, basil and cauliflower.             Oh and egg tofu! If you’re wondering what egg tofu is, it’s this very soft, white                     ingredient that is sliced and served in most of our dishes. At first, I was very unsure           of it but have really grown to love it! Mo threw a little dash of magic into the                       crockpot-like wok and then we poured in the coconut milk and let it simmer a tad               in the bottom of the pan. Then I squeezed a bit of the curry paste in and stirred it to           create the base for the dish. Next, we added the veggies and tofu, stirred a bit and               put the lid on top to let it simmer. In the end, I added a tad more coconut milk to                 make the curry a little creamier and it was perfect.

Once we finished cooking, Emma and I sat down to split and enjoy our creations for          lunch. We were very pleased with how they turned out, and I think both of us are              very much looking forward to cooking some of our favorite Thai food for our loved            ones back home.

  • Chiang Kham Walks: After our fun filled cooking school morning, we laid our yoga mats outside to soak up some sun and enjoy our books. After a while, the pavement was feeling a little too hard so we decided to get up and go for a walk. We walkedIMG_8172 down the road we usually both run on, but decided to swing a left- a way I had never been before. We continued down the road and before we knew it, we came across a “Smart Farm”. Emma’s students had gone on a field trip there earlier in the week so we thought it would be worth it to wander in and check it out. It was beautiful, full of fountains and very green! There were even bunnies, sheep, goats,and a donkey! After checking out the farm, we continued on our walk and before we knew it we ended up at a temple we had visited before that is very far from our house. Surprised at where we were and how small this town seemed once again, we made a loop back towards our apartments. We ended up walking around 5 miles! Even though this town is way too tiny for my liking, we do always seem to find little surprises hidden in the nooks and crannies.

 

  • Movies: Speaking of small town, sometimes we just really have to get out of here. The easiest way for us to do this is to take the bus ride to Chiang Rai for the day on the weekend. It’s 2 hours each way (on a good day), but it’s honestly worth it to get out, see a new movie, eat some different food, and spend a little time in the city. I just looked up the population of Chiang Rai and its 69,888…so take that as you will! We’ve seen quite a few movies here between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. We’ve seen Murder on the Orient Express, The Commuter, MazeRunner 3, Fifty Shades Freed, and most recently Black Panther. I LOVED Black Panther. I’m not usually very interested in Marvel movies but I really enjoyed this one. The costumes, set design, plot, it was amazing. Thanks to our friend Chloe, we’ve also gone to this delicious cafe a few times that has delicious veggie burgers and even better-avocado!!! img_8291-2

School Updates

The past few weeks at school have been very busy! I’ve had to do a bit more than usual including some weekends, but it’s just making me feel like I have 300% earned all of the adventures and travels ahead. A few highlights from Sathitwittaya School the past month…

  • Family Day: Almost immediately after getting back from New Years breakall my students began to prepare dances for Family Day. It was fun to watch my homeroom class of 2nd graders go from watching this youtube video of a pretty complex dance, to absolutely nailing it in the days leading up to Family Day. This big event was new to my school, and in classic Thai fashion I had no idea to what to expect when I showed up to school at 5 pm on Saturday evening. I was told to wear the pink polo I was given and to “look beautiful”. IMG_7973Most of the time I don’t wear any makeup here, but the few times I have the Thai teachers all get way too excited and want to take a million photos. Each class went up one by one to perform their dance in front of hundreds of family members, teachers, and other people from the community. It was a pretty neat experience, and I was really proud of my students, especially my homeroom class. Despite not getting home until close to 11 pm that night, I was grateful I got the chance to see them perform and spend some time with them outside of the classroom.
  • English Camp: The week after Family Day, I was told that we would be having an English Camp for grades 4,5 and 6 the following weekend. As much as I do love (most of) my students, the thought of coming to school all day on Saturday and Sunday was somewhat unbearable to me. After much back and forth, I was called to the principal’s office with the other English teachers (Thai and Filipino), to try to figure out when this camp would be. I told them I was not sure if I would be free on the weekend and additionally that my contract said I was required to get 2 weeks notice when I would be working on the weekend. They were certainly frustrated IMG_8099with me and the language barrier, but it was really what I needed to do to stay sane, get enough sleep and take care of myself. Eventually, my principal decided we would have camp during school on Thursday and Friday of the same week which left us with two days to prepare. I ended up having to stay late after school to do some planning, but hey, at least it wasn’t the weekend! The camp was based on Asean Themes…I had no idea what ASEAN was. Turns out, ASEAN is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and includes Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei. I ended up learning a lot too! We planned different games for the students to play over the two days including relay races, vocabulary games, quizzes and more. My camp experience definitely came in handy! While it was exhausting, the students had a really fun time and it was all worth it.
  • Going Away Party: Last Friday, I was told that later that evening there would be a going away party for Teacher Jo and I. It would be at 6pm that night, and the reason I hadn’t been told yet was that my co-teacher didn’t know if I would be free *cue confused giggle and nod*.  Teacher Ni was nice enough to pick up Teacher Jo, Teacher Sweet and I, and we got to ride with her and her two kids, Bolton (5th grade) and Wida (3 years old) to the party. Teacher Ni speaks pretty good English so it is always nice and somewhat refreshing to be with her and the other foreign teachers. I’ve also become very close with her daughter, Wida, who is in my very youngest class. At first, I felt totally overwhelmed when I was teaching them
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    My sweet Wida

    because they are so little, but now it is the highlight of every Monday for me. I will definitely miss my little ones. The party was at a restaurant where you go and put all raw food on your plate, and take it back to your table to cook it over a fondue-like pot system. There was no way for me to avoid meat, so I just went all in and let the other teachers put whatever they pleased on my plate. I had put a lot of tofu on my plate but after about three bites I realized it was not tofu but instead some type of cubed fish. Not for me! We had a fun evening, and I began thinking about how I will really miss some of the people here no matter how challenging it has been. One of my favorite parts of teaching has been connecting with the other teacher’s children. Three of the girls, AnAnn, Wida and Atom are all in my nursery class and they are definitely my favorites. Today Teacher Wi, my co-teacher, even told me her and AnAnn would miss me and that we would have to keep in touch on messenger.

          One of the hardest things for me here is this sense that I am not making a big                      difference. That I’ll just be another English teacher that comes through these kids              lives that they won’t remember in a year or two. Part of this frustration comes                   from the obsession with workbooks, finishing workbooks and always adhering to               the books, but it also comes from the way the schools are run which is so opposite             of  the experiences I had in schools back at home. But, the closer the time comes to             leave, the more I am coming to realize I do have some very special connections                   here in Chiang Kham, especially with my students. While I may not have been t                  the most productive or experienced English teacher in the history of Sathit, it feels            good to know I have made some tiny difference in the lives of some of  my 300+                  students. More on goodbyes and wrapping up life in Chiang Kham coming soon.

 

 

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