Hello everyone! Greetings from Chaiyaphum, which is in the North East of Thailand, in a region called Isan. We are very close to the Laos border and the language here is a bit different than traditional Thai because of its geographical standing.
Chaiyaphum is my new home for the meantime, but I will catch you up from vacation before I go into my new life here!
The second stop on our vacation was Koh Tao so that we could get our open water scuba diving certification. For four nights accommodation and the certification, I spent about 10,000 baht (~$280). In the states, you can spend hundreds – thousands of dollars on scuba certs, so this was a wonderful opportunity. They call Koh Tao a “bubble factory” because they churn out so many certifications per year and have such large groups, but we went through a smaller school called Siam Scuba, and were lucky enough to dive in just a small group of the three of us and our very fun instructor Miles. We had the amazing opportunity to dive in the royal blue waters of Koh Tao and saw so many different kinds of fish. We also saw a shipwreck, which was awesome! I was looking forward to seeing whale sharks, but we didn’t see any 😦 A group that went out 2 hours after us saw a whale shark which was definitely a bummer – we were 2 hours too early! Laila’s birthday was that Sunday (the day of our last dive!) so we went out to dinner and to a club called Move. Move is a really cool spot and it was Latin night so the DJs were playing Spanish music and people were salsa dancing – it was pretty fun to watch! Then we went over to this rasta treehouse bar across the way which was so so cool. I’ve never seen anything like it. We met some great people, had amazing dives, and left Koh Tao open water PADI certified!
From Koh Tao, Laila and I took a ferry/bus to Phuket. It was a long day and we were happy to finally arrive at our cute hostel called Pineapple Guesthouse. The owners were very nice and they actually had a young daughter named Gina – what a coincidence! We met up with some of our friends from GoTEFL and then went to walk around and find some dive shops. We originally thought we would just do a couple of fun dives around Phuket but after thinking about it, we thought it would be awesome to go for our advanced open water certification. We ended up going with Oceanic, which is a great dive shop in Kata Beach. They were so lovely – super helpful and made us feel extremely comfortable, so we signed up for our advanced SSI open water cert. Our instructor was a Scotsman named Chris who was so nice and knowledgable – we felt very safe with him! The first day was pretty rainy and the visibility wasn’t that great, but we saw lion fish, scorpion fish, sea cucumbers, etc. The second day we took a big boat out about an hour from shore and had three dives. A guy named Adam came with us on two dives – very strong, a great diver and he knew where all of the wildlife was. We saw a shark, lion fish, scorpion fish, moray eels, etc. We also went into a cave which was really cool! On our last dive the current was extremely strong, but we had to go out to complete our certification. When the water is that rough, you are supposed to descend very quickly after getting off the boat. Our group went to descend and as I did, my mask started to fill with water so I ascended a bit to try and fix it. In the 2 minutes that I was on the surface, the current started to drag me and I couldn’t swim against it. The boat was starting to go out of sight and I didn’t know where my group was. I started to thrash around and scream for help, so scared that I would get taken out to sea and nobody would see me. As I started to scream, my two instructors popped out of the water and said they had followed me under the water and saw that I was struggling. It felt good to know they had been there the whole time but I was extremely upset. I didn’t want to continue. But Adam calmed me down, fixed my mask and we descended. The current was still very strong under the water and we were holding onto rocks so that we didn’t float away. It was absolutely crazy. I will never volunteer to dive in conditions like that ever again. Good experience but really scary as well. Since we were diving all day, every day, we didn’t get to experience Phuket nightlife but that’s okay! We were happy to just relax at night.
From Phuket, we took a flight to Bangkok, a shuttle bus from the airport to the bus station, and a bus to Chaiyaphum. Let me tell you – traveling with 60 pounds of luggage is no easy task. Half of it was on my back and the other half was in my suitcase. I was hot, sweaty and exhausted by the time Miranda and I reached our bus. I was pleasantly surprised by the bus – we had these amazing massage chairs that reclined with a foot rest, they gave us snacks, water and blankets, and we each had our own TV. It was actually really awesome. I would live on a bus if it had all of those things! 🙂 We had about a 6 hour ride to Chaiyaphum. As we got further and further away from Bangkok, I’m not going to lie – the anxiety definitely built a bit. We were getting further away from a big city, further away from other Westerners, further away from the English language – it was a little scary. When we arrived at the bus station, we called our consultants (Alice and Narm) to come pick us up (we each get consultants from the agency that places us in our school to make sure we settle in okay) and we went to the first accommodation option. Miranda decided to stay there for the semester but I wasn’t 100% sure about that yet because it was dark and there were other places to see, so I just stayed with her for the night. Alice and Narm introduced us to some of the other teachers staying in the apartment building and we ended up grabbing dinner with them in One Bar, a bar that caters more to the Westerners in the area. It was nice to meet some new people and eat a real meal, as we had just been snacking all day with no opportunities for a real meal.
When we got back to Miranda’s, we went to sleep on the bed and it was hard as a rock – no joke, I think the mattress is made of wood. Worst night’s sleep ever. We woke up early the next day for Alice to take me to the other apartment option but I didn’t want to be so far away from the other teachers so I decided to get my own apartment in the same building as Miranda. After seeing the second place, we went right to Tesco (comparable to Wal-Mart) to pick up the essentials. The first thing I grabbed was mattress toppers – the most important thing on my list! They aren’t that comfortable, but they are better than sleeping on wood, that’s for sure. We went home, unpacked, set up our rooms and then we went to the night market for dinner. So amazingly good! There were also these little puppies they were selling for 200 baht, which is $5 – is that not insane?! I wanted to take all of them home!
On Saturday, I woke up and went for a 4 mile run – it felt good to get out and explore. I ran around the lake that is in front of our apartment and then ran a little ways down the road. It was nice to get my bearings and see some smiling faces. After my run, a man named Noah came by with a motorbike for me. He is Canadian and also a teacher, but rents out motorbikes too. I did some practice runs and then took Miranda to One Bar to get her motorbike. We were driving around a bit and practicing all afternoon! We went home to relax a bit and then went to a BBQ at a fellow teacher’s house. It was awesome to eat hamburgers and just meet some of the other Westerners around town! There were also trick-or-treaters that came to the door – so cute! A little piece of home 🙂
Miranda and I went home a little early that night but that was okay because I knew the next day I would be busy lesson planning and preparing for the first day of school! On Sunday we took a trip to Tesco (it’s like a Wal-Mart) to pick up some more essentials and then lesson planned. We also drove around to find our school and we found a Muay Thai gym! I was thrilled because I was under the impression that there weren’t any Muay Thai gyms in the area. The gym is run by students/teachers from the Physical Education college and is free which is nice, but the type of training you get is not like it was at Lanna in Chiang Mai. They mostly expect that you know what you’re doing and that you don’t need that much guidance but I still do, especially with bag work and learning new moves, so I’m a bit bummed.Most of the people in the gym do not speak English so there is a lot of Google translate going on. It’s good though because I’m learning a lot of new Thai from them. Hopefully it gets better! 🙂
There are also a bunch of gyms around that just have cardio machines,free weights, and other machines, so I’m able to work out and feel normal here, which is great. Another teacher, Joobs, and I went to the gym and then by the time I got home and showered it was time for bed!
Monday I woke up full of jitters, but really excited to get to school. I’m teaching at Anuban Chaiyaphum which is a government run elementary school. I teach kindergarten 1 & 2, as well as Prathom 3 (8 – 9 year olds) and 4 (9 – 10 year olds). The first day was rough, I’m not going to lie. My kindergarteners are great, but the older kids were so so bad – jumping on each other, screaming, running out of class, yelling at me in Thai, punching each other, etc. I felt so helpless and overwhelmed. I didn’t have any clue what to do. I was getting so worked up and I just felt really defeated once the day was over. I came home and I cried a little bit. I had this romantic view in my head of what it was going to be like and I felt a bit naive. We were told how much the Thai children respect their teachers and how wonderful they were and I had really just experienced the complete opposite of that.
As the week went on, I realized that kids will be kids. Not all of them will be little devils and not all of them will be angels. All I can do is try to be the best teacher I can, teach the kids who want to learn, try to motivate those students who are not so interested, care for them, bribe them with candy when absolutely necessary (hehe), and make learning fun. I really need to work on not getting myself all worked up because the only person that it affects is me. I can’t take their behavior personally or get all wigged out about it – I just need to stay calm and take it one class at a time.
After the first week of school, I was ready to just got home, not talk to a soul, eat and watch TV. I just needed my time to recharge. I regret nothing – it was amazing. On Saturday, Miranda and I went shopping and I bought a lot of stuff for school. I’m going to try out a rewards system with the kids so I had to buy a lot of candy and some poster board to make good behavior/bad behavior signs. I also bought some other prizes and school supplies. I spent the rest of the afternoon making signs and I went to go to Muay Thai but the gym was unfortunately closed. Our consultants came by to give us some paperwork because the next day we were leaving for Vientiane, Laos to do our visa run. That night, Miranda and I had some beers and just talked about life. Sometimes it’s just nice to get your buzz on, look at the twinkling stars (yes, the stars are so so bright here and they twinkle!) and have some deep conversations about life.
On Sunday, we took a 6 hour bus from Chaiyaphum to Nongkhai, the city that borders Laos. Let me tell you – this bus was NOT like the bus we took from Bangkok to Chaiyaphum. There were no snacks. No water. No blankets. No massage chairs. Just a bumpy ride and really crappy air conditioning. Such a let down. Anyway, we got to Nongkhai and took a tuk tuk to our hotel which was nice and clean. We took a walk to a restaurant near by and they didn’t really speak much English either, but the owner called his daughter so she could translate for us – it was really sweet. The food was great and we had the best beer ever – it was sweet and delicious and felt like such a treat. The owner ended up pulling up a chair and talking to us for a bit. Turns out he lives in Bangkok most of the time because he owns a Muay Thai gym there. He invited me to come train the next time I’m in Bangkok – pretty damn awesome. That’s the great thing about Thailand – for the most part, everybody is extremely friendly, interested in you and your life, and willing to help you. It’s quite refreshing from that NYC attitude I was so used to. We’re even friends on Facebook now! 🙂
We went home after our dinner and watched hilarious Indian soap operas dubbed in Thai and came up with our own storyline since we couldn’t understand a word of it. I have to say, it’s one of my new favorite past times. The next morning we had to wake up at 4:45 to walk to a 7/11 close to the border to meet up with the agency who would be handling the logistics of our visa run. They collected our paperwork and led us to the gate that open up at 6:00 am allowing people into Laos. As soon as the gate opened, people started running towards the office. It was like a stampede and kind of scary actually. Since we paid to be with an agency, they took us to a different section – thank God. We still had to wait in a pretty long line to be admitted into Laos. Once in Laos, we took a packed bus to the Thai embassy and had to wait in an even longer line for them to check our paperwork and stamp our passports. We were finally able to go back to the hotel and swim in the pool. It felt great to swim after standing in the heat all day. We met some other teachers in our group and went to the night market and to get drinks at a bar that overlooks the Mekong river. It was pretty awesome. I wish we had a little more time there to explore but I’m sure I’ll go back at some point. The next day, we woke up late, had breakfast and then took another packed bus over to the border to get our passports back. We were supposed to have them in our hands in enough time to catch a 2:00 pm bus back to Chaiyaphum. We didn’t end up getting our passports until 3:45 pm and missed the last bus back to Chaiyaphum so we had to catch a 4 hour bus to Khon Kaen (a larger city in Isan) and stay the night. Our consultant didn’t try to find us a hotel while we were en route to Khon Kaen so she asked our tuk tuk driver via phone to take us to a hotel close to the bus station so we could walk there the next morning to catch the 6 am bus back to Chaiyaphum. Well, the hotel (if you can even give it that much credit) was disgusting. Stains on the walls, stains on the sheets, no air conditioning, loud barking dogs in the parking lot – SHADY. We tried to talk ourselves into staying there but we just couldn’t do it so we got our money back and bailed. A little ways down the road we found the cutest boutique hotel and had the greatest stay. We felt safe and clean and great. 🙂 One thing (of many) that I’ve learned about myself on this journey so far is just to go with your gut and don’t care about what others think – if it’s right for you, just go with it – especially when it comes to your level of comfort and safety.
The next day we ventured out in the dark of the morning to catch the 6 am bus to Chaiyaphum. It took us 2 hours and 15 minutes and once we got back, it was time to shower and get ready to go back to work! Such a long day after so much traveling. But I also realized something else – I was actually excited to go back and see my kids at school. I was looking forward to seeing their smiling faces. Was I ever excited about going to work when I worked in PR? No – not unless I was traveling abroad or working on the campaign we did with some NFL players, which only happened twice in the 3 years I worked there. It was a bit of a revelation for me. It justified every reason I had for coming here. As much as the kids can be insane sometimes, I really do love them already and I’m thankful to have the opportunity to be in their lives.
This past week went a lot better in terms of teaching – I met some more teachers, one being P-Anne, who speaks wonderful English which is very helpful to me! The kids were better and I was able to not let so many things get to me and just be happy to be there.
Some highlights from the past 2 weeks of teaching:
- P-Toom (head teacher of my P3 kids) calls me Julie (instead of Gina) in her Thai accent almost everyday and corrects herself every time – it’s honestly hilarious.
- P-Toom: Joooooolie! Oh – sorry. Gina. Do you have boyfriend?
- Me: Nope! No, boyfriend.
- P-Toom: Why….
- Me: It’s really okay! I just don’t want one. Too much work! *smiling, laughing*
- P-Toom: *narrows eyes* I don’t believe you… *laughs maniacally*
- Me: *wtf?!*
- Being called beautiful by one teacher and her promptly patting me on the butt
- P-Toom telling me she loves me everyday before she leaves school
- P-Toom physically taking my arm and dragging me out of school because she wants to go home and won’t leave until I do.
- All of the kid hugging me, holding my hand and saying hello to me.
- Morning assembly when all of the children sing the national anthem and pray.
- Having some bonding time with some of my P4 girls and getting my hair braided
On Friday after school I went to the gym and then got dinner at One Bar, came home and had some drinks on the gazebo at our apartment building. Yesterday I got to video chat with Jen (yay!), worked out, banged out some grading and lesson plans, went to a party at another teacher’s house and then we went out to a club. The club was definitely interesting – there’s just a bunch of tables so you can’t really dance and then there’s a rock band that plays with bouts of a DJ playing house music. Strange, but it was okay!
Today I woke up a little late but was able to video chat with Jamie, Geena and Puff! It’s so nice to get to catch up with my best friends. It puts me in such a good mood and makes me feel like a little piece of home is here with me. I also ran some errands and I’ll be working out a little later.
This week is sports week at school so apparently there’s no teaching and just sports but we will see – they always seem to have some miscommunications when it comes to what the real plans are.
I’ll write again soon! xoxo