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.
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.
- 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.
- 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. We 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 walked 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!!!
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 break, all 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”. Most 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 with 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
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.