In a cabin by the sea

Before school started, I completed my first solo adventure around Thailand.

The first leg of the trip was Consolidation (a Peace Corps practice drill in case an emergency breaks out in country). I learned how to get a Krabi by public transportation and rewarded myself with a large pineapple mai tai while being treated to a one night stay at a large resort.

Then, another volunteer and I headed back to Surat Thani, found a cheap hostel and went to watch Guardians of the Galaxy 2 at the cinema. By 5 am the next morning I was at the airport on my way to Bangkok for some eating, shopping, and the next day took a 5 hour bus ride and a 1 hour ferry to Koh Mak (an island in the Gulf of Thailand, off the coast of Trat, near the border of Cambodia).

Here I stayed in a beautiful mansion with 12 girls and met up with the other Peace Corps volunteers for the annual MayCation (a celebration including a Cinco De Mayo fiesta and feast and a chance for the 129 group to meet with the 128s).

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I lounged hard, swam in the warm shallow water, and cooked an epic Italian meal of three different types of pasta while drinking a wine bottle I paid way too much baht for – my favorite way to relax.

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Then I stayed 1 night by myself in a cabin by the sea before heading back to Bangkok and my flight back to site.

I indulged in my favorite eats at the family restaurant right next to the Island Huts and I fell asleep and woke up to the sight and sounds of the ocean outside my window.

I took a walk in the sprinkling rain, smells of wet dirt and rotted fruit, and later returned back to my cabin under a firefly lit path. I sipped on a lime, coconut and rum mixture on my porch, to a playlist of beach tunes. I was on my own private beach.

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The isolated experience by the sea after a fun reconnect with volunteers was a recharging and healing experience. Now if only I could live in that cabin for the remainder of my service…

 

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing

there is a beach. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that sand,

the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”

doesn’t make any sense.

 

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.

        Don’t go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.

        Don’t go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the shoreline

where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.

        Don’t go back to sleep.

 

The excerpt above is from a poem “A Great Wagon” by Rumi, with only the bold words changed (field to beach, grass to sand, and doorsill to shoreline) to fit the setting of my story.

And the journey begins…

Everyone who volunteers for the Peace Corps has a different background, different motivations and different expectations. We all bond during training aka PST because we endure a non-stop 10 week intensive and structured learning environment, only to then again be split apart to experience different locations, different people and have different experiences.

This is the start of my story.

On March 20, 2017, I became an official Peace Corps volunteer

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After having known my counterpart/the English teacher I will be working closely with (Kru Dol) and the school director/principal (Paw-Aw Werot) for 1 and a half days of the Counterpart Conference, I hopped in a car with them for a 10 hour car ride down south.

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My first 4 days at site has been nothing short of eventful.

First day, I woke up late around 10 am, having arrived in my province (jung-wat) Surat Thani and district (amphur) Tha Chang at 1 am that Thursday morning.

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I stayed at my school director’s house (bahn kon paw-aw) and he took me on a driving tour of the community.

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Then I visited my school and was introduced to most of the 15 teachers, desperately trying to remember and correctly pronounce all of their nicknames.

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Later, I toured more the community, met people my director knew at the market and within 15 mins of arriving home that evening, I was informed we were going to a wedding. Thai weddings are huge events, with thousands of people (the whole community is invited) with a stage for performances and introducing the wedding party. Luckily all we did was eat a huge meal, say our blessings to the couple and go home.

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Now, it’s Friday morning and I am up by 5am to pack my backpack and head off to a field trip for the middle school students (Matayom). I was told it would be a “moral camp” yet I had no idea what this would entail…it started and ended with a lot of selfies…

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We drove to the Tiger Temple (Wat Thum Sua) in the province Krabi…

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Attended a lecture by policemen about drug prevention, and a lecture from a monk before we practiced meditation…

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Then we set off on an afternoon sweaty hike, up 1,237 steps…

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To see this view…

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Pay respects to this Buddha…

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And then climb back down to shower, eat and attend a long evening of chanting and meditation practice with monks in a cave (not pictured). Needless to say, I slept well that night, even on thin mat on the hard ground…

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On Saturday, we visited the famous Krabi black crab statue…

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And made a beach trip where I finally was able to dunk myself into the salty ocean for a swim (although to be appropriate I had to wear a t-shirt and long shorts)…

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We drove home that afternoon, only for me to shower and head off to another event, a monk ordination (not pictured). And Sunday morning another wedding… At both events, we came, we ate, and we left.

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Sunday afternoon was my first time to relax (yet, I still had to insist on not going on another trip in the evening to visit my Paw-Aw’s vacation house, using the excuse that I had “Peace Corps homework”).

Today I am at the school, where all the teachers are finalizing grades from the past school year (the new school year starts May 15th). I am blogging, making a list of many questions I want to ask, and creating calendars to plan for the 7 weeks until school starts.

If that was just 4 days, I can only imagine what adventures the next 2 years will bring 🙂

The Honeymoon

The Honeymoon: the first phase of culture shock.

So far, on my PeaceCorps journey, life has been pretty easy.

I flew to San Francisco for a few days of staging events, met and socialized with my fellow American volunteers, ate my favorite American meals one last time on Peace Corps’ dime, met up with my SF girlfriends for a final good-bye and completed various introductory activities to consecrate my commitment to the Peace Corps’ mission.

I flew across the Pacific Ocean for the first time, completing 32 hours of travel from SFO to BKK, flying on the top luxury airline in the aviation industry, Singapore Airlines, completely equipped with multimedia entertainment, assorted Asian cuisine meal and snack selections, and hot towels to steam my face at the start and end of each flight.

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In Bangkok, I have spent over a week reaping in the unrelenting support and smooth logistics provided by the Thailand Peace Corps staff. I have explored the Sing Buri province on foot, bike and in a song toa (open-air truck-bus). There are abundant convenience stores (711), delicious food places (aa-haan a-roi), and many smiling friendly Thais to wai (bow greeting) on a daily basis (so-wat-dee ka).

A few of the many highlights:

  • Being greeted into Thailand with a special welcoming ceremony (Bii Sri Soo Kwan) in which my soul/spirit was blessed and followed by a feast, karaoke and dancing
  • Biking around the rural around of Sing Buri —> seeing one of the largest seated golden Buddhas in the country —> learning how to manually fix many a flat tire —> exploring the abundant outside market —> eating a bag of bugs and other edible items —> negotiating in Thai effectively to buy a skirt for 200 baht (around $6)
  • Walking along the river walkway at night —> getting lost —> finding a temple and a new way to the hotel —> happening upon a Movie Cafe —> seeing a movie dubbed in the Thai (One Piece Film: Gold) —> attempting to speak the little Thai I know to buy a ticket, obtain a coupon and order chicken pops (gai tot) and a coffee (kawf-fae ron)

 

Now, the honeymoon hotel is ending. Tomorrow, I meet my Thai host family who will house me for the remaining 10 weeks of the PST (training).  

While many PCVs are nervous or sad about leaving our American bubble, I am brimming with excitement because this is why I came – to immerse myself in the Thai culture. I will definitely miss the daily yoga practice and companionship; I know that my wonderful American PCV friends are a bonus to my service, a lifelong network of courageous, talented people. It is the Thai people that I wish to connect with the most because I know fitting in and communicating will be my biggest challenge yet.

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Everyone has different motivations for being here. I happen to be brewing a mixture of idealism to make the world a better place, a scoop of desire to challenge myself, a helping of selfishness to travel the world and a pinch of escapism to take a rest from American culture.

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My cultural awareness is expanding tremendously. Tonight I say good-bye to western toilets and toilet paper in the bathroom, overhead showers, american eating and sleeping habits. Thais use squat toilets, toilet paper rolls to clean their hands at the dinner table, bucket showers, double-fisted utensil holding and never sleep with their heads pointing west.

Although these customs may seem strange, they are surprisingly practical — squat toilets require squatting which is good for the digestive tract and butt muscles; bucket showers are taken two to three times a time to stay clean; forks are used as a tool to scoop food onto one’s spoon; due to the head-to-feet concept (Thais believe feet are dirty, and there are many rules for foot etiquette) feet face away from Buddha shrines, pictures of the King and West to be respectful and ward off and spirits.

 

Using toilet paper as a napkin and the strict modesty rules in this humid climate are the two customs that I can’t seem to wrap my head around completely, and yet I will continue wearing black and other subdued colors until October 2017 in respect for the late king, will wear conservative clothing and formal skirts in the schools everyday as a role-model for the kids and bring my own sanitary wipes into the bathroom with me while the toilet paper adorns the dinner table.

 

All joking aside, I have learned a lot these past few weeks, especially in regards to a very foreign language. I have learned enough Thai to respond to simple questions and address the Vice-governor of Sing Buri in a formal greeting at a government building.

**link to article: Siam News Peace Corps in Thailand

 

I am highly interested in language teaching and language learning and so have found the Thai Language to be fascinating with its tonal nuances, beautiful Thai script and somewhat simple grammar that reflects its collectivist culture — but that is for another blog post.

For now, I tell myself jai yen yen (cool heart) and enjoy my last stand-up shower and western style bed for the next 2 years…