Life in Chiang Mai and My First Muay Thai Fight

I haven’t written a journal post since I got back from Japan in April.I haven’t written a blog post for longer.

For some reason, I just haven’t felt that inspired to write. Maybe it’s because I’ve been so busy with school and Muay Thai or maybe it’s because I’ve been having a lot of conflicting emotions lately that I honestly don’t feel like putting down on paper.

But, I felt like maybe it was time to put whatever it is aside, and just start writing. It has always made me feel better in the past and maybe it is just what I need.

I’ve been calling Chiang Mai my home for close to 5 months now, and have been teaching amazing little 4 year old children for 3 months here.

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I adore them. Some days my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. They inspire me to be a better teacher and a better person. I always want them to have fun in my class and will do whatever it takes to make sure that happens.

I have one parent who I talk to weekly via LINE (a messenger app that all Thais use) and she told me that her daughter asks her to pretend to be me so they can practice English together at home. She also asks her mother to teach her small English phrases so that she can communicate with me more in the classroom. It seriously makes my heart melt.

I have such an unconditional love for these children. They are so innocent, sweet, and don’t have a bad bone in their tiny bodies. I don’t care if there is green snot running down their noses, or they pee their pants all over the floor in my classroom – I can handle it, and I honestly don’t even care. I would take that any day if it means I get to have the privilege of teaching and loving these angels on a daily basis.

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I sign in to work at 7:50 am, teach my kids and sometimes Thai teachers (2x a week), prep for lessons, write parent newsletters, record grades, etc. before signing out around 3:30 pm.

From school, I drive my motorbike straight to my gym, Lanna Muay Thai.

We’re currently in the middle of rainy season and the sky loves to open up mostly when I’m just leaving school to drive to the gym, so you can often find me wearing my flattering pink poncho while on my bike (insert monkey covering eyes emoji).

Once I get to the gym around 4:00 pm, I change my clothes and get ready to run. Most days, I run 6k, but if I’m feeling tired, I’ll cut that down to a 3, 4 or 5k  – depends on just how tired I am! After my run, I skip rope for maybe 10 minutes, wrap my hands, and shadowbox for 5 minutes. Sometimes I don’t have time to shadowbox and have to jump straight into sparring, which we do about 3 – 4 times a week. The sparring we do at Lanna is quite light, but sometimes us girls get to spar with the Thai boys, which is a treat because they all have so many fights under their belts. Some days they really try to kill you, which is fun and exhausting all at the same time.

We usually spar until someone tells us to stop, maybe 6 – 7 rounds, maybe more sometimes. After sparring, it’s time for bag work until a trainer calls you over for pad work. Then, depending on time, I usually go back to bag work after for a bit to work more on technique. To finish up, it’s time for abs and some arm/leg conditioning. All in all, our afternoon sessions last about 3 hours.

When I just started training back in September and was just doing it for fitness purposes, I didn’t put too much pressure on myself. That has changed. I’m not even sure when my mind changed from “I’ll never fight” to “I really want this”, but every day I’m trying to push myself to be better, learn more, run faster – the list could go on. It’s not even just the physical aspect of this sport – there is so much mental work that goes into it, as well. When my trainers started to train me for my first fight, they were relentless in making sure that I was prepared. I truly appreciate their dedication to making sure I wasn’t going to completely get my ass handed to me. But, that comes with a lot of prep work: long distance running, sprints, sparring every day, clinching every other day, crazy hard pad work sessions, endless drills on the bag, and getting mentally challenged at every turn.

I’m not going to lie, I cried and I cried a lot. I was frustrated because I didn’t feel like I was performing well, or that I wasn’t going to be ready, or that I wasn’t absorbing information quickly enough. I was taking my frustration out during pad work and not having as much fun as usual. I was pissed during most of those sessions. The trainers and the fighters could see that I was getting upset quite easily those days. Sometimes my eyes couldn’t wait until they got home to fill up, so I would get all teary eyed right there. They would joke around, but I took it more as being made fun of and I didn’t like it. They were testing me, and I didn’t know why at the time.

One day, I was sparring with one of the fighters, Aof, and he was just being relentless. I was starting to get tired and he was kicking my ass, and he kicked me in the liver, not once but twice. Anyone who has gotten liver-kicked knows the pain you feel when that happens, and sometimes, it’s hard to continue on. But I did. I was mad as hell. I came back with a vengeance, and ended up getting swept and falling really hard on my back — the wind was completely knocked out of me. That was my breaking point. Aof ran over to me but I did not want to be consoled or apologized to. I was trying to catch my breath and I knew I was about to cry — realllllly cry — so I jumped up as quickly as I could, ripped off my gloves, got out of the ring, and ran as fast as I could to the end of the driveway so I could cry by myself behind a bush. Pathetic, huh?

Bas, our youngest fighter (12yo), knew I was upset and came to check on me, and Aof followed, apologizing and hugging me. Yea, it was a shitty session. But you know what? It made me stronger. A lot stronger. And they were right to continue testing me — they wanted to make sure that I toughened up enough so that if something like that happened in my fight, I would be able to handle it and not run off crying. I understand that now and I appreciate it.

After weeks of working so hard to prove myself, Dang, our head trainer and one of my favorite people of all time, finally told me he thought I was ready to fight.

I was so pumped. I felt like everything I had worked so hard for finally paid off. He took my picture right then and there for the poster that promotes the fight and he sent that along with my weight to the promoter to set it up. I was on cloud nine.

Dang told me I would be fighting a girl we had seen fight at the Super Fight at Warm Up Cafe a few weeks prior. Our fight would only be her second and we were the same height and weight so it was a good match up. I watched her fight and took notes and tried to put together a strategy. I saved a picture of her to my phone and looked at it before training every day. I pictured her face in my head when I would go running, hit pads or during bag work. I wanted to kill her.

Fast forward the day of the fight — I see the poster that promotes my fight, but my opponent isn’t on that poster. I messaged Dang, asking why there was another girl on the poster, and didn’t receive an answer. I knew in my gut that my opponent had changed and it freaked me out. Don’t get me wrong, I had a couple sleepless nights and some butterflies in my stomach leading up to the fight, but overall, I thought I had been relatively calm (my mom probably would say something different), that is until I saw that.

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I had been planning on fighting the one girl, and just like that, it wasn’t her anymore. I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. I was strategizing against this particular girl for two weeks and now I wasn’t fighting her?! I decided that there wasn’t anything I could do about it and to just relax. It’s actually extremely common in Thailand for stuff like this to happen — most of the time, you don’t know who you are fighting until you get to the stadium the night of your fight.

I bought a new top for the fight and got lunch with Joe and Amy and then rested the remainder of the day until it was time to go to the gym. As soon as I got there, I was all questions about this new opponent: who was she? how old was she? how many fights did she have? when did they find out? Dang told me he forgot to tell me and then Gaan told me she was a champion — a champion?!?! I almost ran out of there. He started laughing hysterically and I felt a little better knowing he was just kidding around.

Before I knew it, it was time to hop in the truck and drive over to Tha Pae stadium. I didn’t feel that nervous though — I felt ready. This was it, what I had been working so hard for. We got into the stadium and I just tried to listen to music and not get too worked up. I saw my opponent and she looked young, a bit thicker than me and she had some of her hair shaved off on the sides. This is something Amy and I have talked about — it’s scary to have an opponent who has a shaved head. It makes them appear more intimidating.

Anyway, I got changed and Gaan started wrapping my hands and I continued to ask him questions about her. I asked him “how old is she? she looks so young” and he responded with “that’s because you’re old” and we all just started laughing. We laughed about that for a good ten minutes. It definitely broke the tension and made me loosen up.

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After my hands were wrapped and I got a Thai oil massage, I shadowboxed for a little bit to warm up my body. Sanook gave me a pep talk, which really meant a lot to me, and before I knew it, it was time to get in the ring. Dang told me “it’s just like sparring” and that was it. I don’t have a Wai Kru (dance that fighters do before the fight to honor their trainers and gym) yet, so I did a simple walk around the ring, wai-ing at each corner. Then, it was time for the first round.

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I felt weirdly calm. In high school, I was always scared shitless before swim meets or games because I felt such pressure to perform well. I would even throw up sometimes before swim meets. But I felt ready, and I felt prepared. The first round proved that — I certainly won that round. Dang kept saying to me “she’s scared of you! push forward!” I was throwing some head kicks and she was backing up.

The 2nd, 3rd and 4th rounds are kind of a blur. I definitely didn’t black out, as some people say happens to them when they fight, but they just kind of morphed into one. She loved teeping (front kicking) me, and I couldn’t catch them or push them out of the way, which is something I’m currently trying to work on. She also was way better at clinching and throwing knees than I was.

5th round and she knew it was a close fight, so she tried to stay away from me so that I couldn’t gain more points.

By the way Dang looked at me, I knew I had lost. Usually, after the fight and before the decision, each fighter goes to the opposite corner to say thank you and get a sip of water. But Dang told me no, so he helped me get out of the ring instead and that was that. I felt disappointed, but it was also a good fight for my first one so I didn’t feel too horrible about it. You can watch the fight video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UaYT6w5r5M&feature=youtu.be

There were tons of foreigners at the stadium who wanted pictures with me, and someone even slipped me a 20 baht tip (haha!). Most of my gym came to the fight, as well as the teachers from my school, so it felt really nice to have a lot of support. I also found out afterward that my opponent had some where between 4 – 10 fights prior to ours. I felt good knowing I could hold my own fighting someone with more experience than me.

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On the way back to the gym, I sat in the bed of the truck with Amy and Adam and we talked about the fight. I felt really accomplished. I had wanted to fight for so long and it finally happened. But I also felt a little sad – I was really concerned that Dang and the other trainers were disappointed in me.

Back at the gym, we had a couple beers and snacks and then called it a night. I was already a bit sore at that point, but nothing terrible.

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Now, I’m still dealing with a rib injury from that fight that will not seem to go away. It keeps getting tapped in training and it’s starting to act up again. Putting a hot compress on it and rubbing tiger balm into it seems to help, so I’m hoping it’s just an injury that will take a bit of time to heal and not something that is serious.

Since my fight, I took a couple days off to heal and go to Koh Samed with school, but now I’m back on the grind.

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The past couple of weeks, I have felt so exhausted and it has been really affecting my training. Running 6k and hitting pads just feels hard for me – I feel slow and my legs feel heavy. In addition to that, someone who left Chiang Mai on bad terms with me back in November is back for some time and is training at the gym, which makes things a bit awkward and brings up unsavory memories. Gotta love gym dynamics, huh? As they say, don’t shit where you eat.

My Lanna Muay Thai family is my core group here — they see me at my best, my worst, my sweatiest, and everything in between. They know by one look if I’m having a rough day or by one laugh if I had the best day ever. They are constantly pushing me and I love them for that, even if some days it may not seem like it.

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Between school and Muay Thai, I don’t have time for much else, but I love my life here. I like my routine and I like that I get to do what I love, whether that’s teaching or training.

That being said, it can also be difficult. When people from school are going on an adventure on a Saturday or going out for drinks on a Friday night after school, I usually have to decline. I don’t drink too much anymore because I don’t want it to affect my training but I also train twice on Saturdays (6:30 – 9:30 am and 4:00 – 7:00 pm) so going out the night before or trying to squeeze something in between is tricky.

This may make me appear to be uninterested in making friends or whatever they may think, but it’s not like that at all. I’m just focused on what I need to do. And sometimes that hinders me from fostering new friendships. Luckily for me, I have an amazing best friend here named Amy. She’s from Florida and her and her boyfriend, Joe, moved here about 3 months ago to train full time. We were a little wary of each at first (girls, right?) but quickly became close friends. I see her every day, talk to her via messenger when we’re apart, and I just enjoy her company. She teaches me new things all the time, she’s an amazing sparring/drilling partner, and our little dance breaks during training are my favorite (even though we get in trouble for messing around sometimes — hehe). I can talk to her about anything and I know that we’re equally there for each other no matter what. We just click — we get each other. It feels really good to have someone like that here because it’s been a while since I’ve felt like that.

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Lately, I’ve been really missing home. I miss having people around me who have known me and loved me for a very long time.

I miss watching movies, drinking tea, and sneaking chocolate with my mom on lazy Friday nights. I miss eating hot dogs and drinking beers with my dad by the pool. I miss snuggling with my fluffy little puppy. I miss going out for drinks with friends down the shore. I miss waking up to the bay right outside my window. I miss constantly having people to just hang around with.

It’s hard to constantly be in ‘making new friends’ mode — sometimes you just want to be around the people who understand you the most. Sometimes you don’t want to make friends with people because you know they’ll be leaving in a few short weeks anyway so you think to yourself, “what’s the point?”.

I’ve also had to learn the hard lesson that some people I thought were my best friends maybe were just my friends out of convenience. Between the time difference and the distance, it takes effort to keep friendships alive when you live so far away. I am very lucky that I have wonderful friends who try to catch up when they can, but I do have others who seemingly can’t be bothered with trying to make an effort. It’s one of those things that nobody quite tells you before you move far away.

Don’t be fooled though — overall, life is great here.

Sure, I have my bad days just like everyone else — but when I’m driving my motorbike home after a particularly awesome training session, or when I’m in the mountains with friends and see elephants peeking through the trees, or when my students run over to hug me, or when Thai people see me running down the street in my Muay Thai shorts they give me a thumbs up or an encouraging smile, I feel really lucky to be here doing what I love to do.

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Quick Update!

School

This week was our first full week of school in a very long time, but as slow as I thought it would go by, it actually went by pretty quickly! This week I reviewed for the midterm with my classes and after we reviewed, I let them watch Finding Nemo.

I have never heard my classes so quiet as I did this week. It was amazing, wonderful, magical – it was a Christmas miracle. It made me think we should watch a movie every week! (hehe just kidding – but am I?)

I have one student who gives me presents every week after class – this week she gave me a mini 2015 calendar. A little late in the game since it’s almost 2016 but I just think it’s the cutest thing that she gives me presents every single week. Love her!

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Weather

So they kept telling us that it was Winter but it didn’t really feel like it until all of a sudden it was 66 degrees on Thursday. Kids were bundled up in ear muffs, scarfs, winter coats, gloves, hats – the whole nine yards. 66 DEGREES, PEOPLE. They were literally prepared for a blizzard. Not going to lie, though – it was actually pretty cold. I was shivering. Who would have thunk it?!

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The physical education college is off from school now for winter break so my friend that helps me with pad work is back home for a couple of weeks, unfortunately. This means that instead of doing some bag work and then pad work after, I’ve had to double up on the bag work. I miss having somebody to practice pads with, but I’ve been improving on the bag, so that’s the bright side! He did make a surprise appearance on Friday towards the end so I did double bag work and then padwork, as well. I was a bit tired by the end! Have some nice battle wounds 🙂

A couple of high school students were at the gym on Thursday and they decided to ask me a couple questions so it was nice to have somebody to talk to for a bit. A majority of the time, unless my friend or some of the other really nice guys are there, nobody really talks to me. It felt good to be acknowledged and have somebody take interest in me, even if it was by a couple of 15-year-olds. I’m so used to training at Lanna, where the guys care about me and are always trying to help me improve. It’s a big change to walk into a gym, still as a beginner in the sport, and basically be on your own, having to teach yourself the proper technique of moves based on previous trainings, reading blogs and watching videos. I miss the camaraderie of Lanna – they weren’t just my trainers, they were also my good friends. I’ve started just wearing my headphones a majority of the time because nobody talks to me anyway. I can’t figure out if it’s because they speak very little English/I don’t speak much Thai and they don’t feel trying, or if it’s because I’m a foreigner, or if it’s because I’m a woman, or if it’s because I’m just learning the sport, or if it’s just a combination of all of those things. At first I thought they were just wanting me to “pay my dues” so to speak until I earned their respect, but I’ve been there 4 – 5 times a week for the past month and a half and I’m constantly busting my ass, so I’m not sure where the problem lies. It’s a bit disheartening at times because you really do need the support of your gym to succeed – at least that’s what I think.

Looking forward to getting back to Lanna Muay Thai 🙂

Christmas

We have the day off on Christmas because all of the teachers (excluding foreign teachers) are going on some sports weekend retreat. Excited that we have off so I can video chat with my parents and friends! 🙂

Hope everyone had a great week! Have a fun weekend.

xoxo

Chaiyaphum has got me now!

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!

Koh Tao

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!

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Phuket

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.

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Chaiyaphum

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! 🙂

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

Island Time

Wow. Wow. Wow.

Time has passed so very quickly since I’ve been here.

Since the last time I wrote, so much has happened! Sorry I haven’t written a blog post in a while – I’ve been so busy taking advantage of every opportunity thrown my way that I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write about it! To sum up the past couple of weeks:

  1. I am now officially TEFL certified and can teach children! I taught 7 classes during my course and love the kids – they are adorable, respectful, and smart. When they show that they learned something from you, you can’t help but feel extremely rewarded. I can’t wait to have my own classes and see my little babies every day! 🙂
  1. I love love love Muay Thai. I ended up training 5 days a week and really couldn’t get enough of it. I really enjoyed seeing how I improved week to week and loved learning new technique. The gym felt like home to me – I was completely heartbroken when I had to leave Chiang Mai because the trainers and the other people who trained there became like family to me. We trained, ate, drank, laughed, attended fights, and hung out together – I’m in serious withdrawal right now. This sport has taught me so much already and I’m excited to continue training. There better be a gym where I will be teaching! But, no gym will ever compare to Lanna Muay Thai.
  1. I think I would really love to move to Chiang Mai at some point. I loved living there so much and really miss it. It’s the perfect city – small and manageable. It kind of reminds me of Philly in a way. I felt home there on our little street and can’t wait to get back. I loved training at Lanna and going to Doggy Monster bar for a Chang and seeing the same smiling faces every morning on my way to school. I’m definitely excited for Chaiyaphum since it will be so unlike anything I’ve experienced before but I know I’ll make my way back to Chiang Mai.

I am currently writing this post from Koh Tao! I’m here to get PADI certified so that I can open water scuba dive anywhere in the world – pretty cool and so much cheaper than doing it at home. After TEFL training ended we had orientation and now we are on a 2-week vacation! Started off in Hua Hin, which is really a strange place. Lucy’s boyfriend is doing his TEFL program there so we went to visit and we were really thankful that our program was in Chiang Mai. Hua Hin is just kind of dirty and strange. Very, very happy to have moved onto Koh Tao! We had to walk a little ways from our hotel to get to the bus and it was so hard to lug our baggage – I would be a horrible full-time backpacker. We took a 4 hour bus to the ferry and then the 2 hour ferry to Koh Tao. We had some Changs and made some friends on the ferry and then we were there! We got to our accommodation and were led up to our fan room – no air con, just a fan. SO HOT. We talked to our scuba school and figured out our schedule, then ate some dinner and got ready to go on a bar crawl! It was really fun. We met a bunch of people and bopped around a few different bars on the island. We woke up this morning, got breakfast, went to the beach and then started our scuba course. We had to watch a 3 hour video and answer some questions. Then we decided to switch rooms so now we have air con! Tomorrow we have to be at scuba school at 8 am so we are just laying low tonight. Can’t wait to get in the water tomorrow!

xo

kop khun ka!

Since I know little Thai at this point, kop khun ka (thank you) has been my go-to. I pretty much say kop khun ka and sawadee ka (hello) for every single interaction. Hey, at least I’m polite! 🙂

This week has gone by so fast! We have had class 9:00 am to 5:00 pm everyday and we’ve also had homework to complete. It’s a lot to learn in such a short time period but I know I will be very prepared for when it’s time to teach my own class in Chaiyaphum.

On Tuesday, I decided to join Sarah for Muy Thai at the training center right next to our hotel. What a workout and so much fun. My trainer’s name was Pele and he was not too thrilled to have a beginner to train. I’m not the most coordinated and it takes me some time to really understand, so he would kick me (not hard) and punish me with push ups if I really wasn’t understanding. He also told me I have a “pretty face, but stupid.” He was super motivating…

Any way, although Pele wasn’t the best trainer, I’m going back tomorrow to hopefully train with someone new. Can’t wait! Best workout I’ve had in a very long time – was soaking wet with sweat and feeling a little faint towards the end.

After Muy Thai, I showered, got ready and joined some classmates at the bar downstairs called Doggy Monster Bar for a couple beers before heading out to a jazz bar called North Gate in downtown Chiang Mai. Tuesday night is improv night, so people from all over come and jam out with each other. Such a fun time and really great to hear people from all different places playing with each other. There was even a beat boxer from Chicago!

Wednesday night we had a lot of work to do – we had to prepare for our first practice lesson (Flashcard method) that we gave in front of our class today. We wrote out our lesson plan, created cheat sheets and practiced our lessons for hours.

The practice lesson today went well! We were split into smaller groups for the majority of the day and due to some extenuating circumstances, I was the only one that had to give my lesson to the entire class – SCARY, but I guess it was good to get the practice with a bigger class because tomorrow we actually go to a school and teach our 50 minute lesson to LIVE KIDS! I’ll be teaching 17 year olds.

My lesson consists of a warmer, context setting, picture preview, core dialogue, vocabulary expansion, and communicative activity – for all you teacher nerds that care about that! 🙂 My topic is countries and food, which is of interest to me since I love traveling and eating, so it’s a fun lesson!

After class today we all took a swim in the pool and finished our lesson plans. Then Lucy and I had plans to go visit the University Market and park (Chiang Mai University is right up the road from our hotel) so we started to walk and it began down pouring! We were able to find refuge under a bus stop overhang and stayed there until the rain stopped to a drizzle. We then thought it would be best to head back towards our hotel and find dinner. We stopped into this little whole in the wall – all of the best places here are holes in the wall that serve the most amazing and freshest food for $1 – 2 a meal – for a meal of grilled chicken, papaya salad and sticky rice. The chicken was amazing – you can just tell that it is the freshest chicken you’ve ever eaten and that it was probably killed a couple hours ago. If that isn’t farm to table, I don’t know what it is.

As soon as we got up to leave, it started to down pour again and this time, it was harder than we had ever seen it. The restaurant owner insisted that we take her umbrella (who does that?! so nice!!) and when we refused (we couldn’t take her only umbrella!) we agreed that we would stay in the restaurant until the rain slowed (we got to hang out with the owner’s cute dog that resembled a gremlin – total win). We waited a couple minutes and then darted to an “everything” store as they call them here and bought a couple of cheap umbrellas and waded through the rain all the way back to the hotel. Not gonna lie – very fun and very wet.

I just finished my last run through of my lesson and should get some sleep before my 6:00 am wake call.

Goodnight!

xo

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Delicious soup I had for lunch yesterday!

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The context setting portion of my lesson plan.

First Day of UniTEFL

First day of TEFL class is finished! 🙂

Had a great time meeting everyone in class – there are lots of Americans, as well as some British, Australian and one New Zealander.

Everyone is super nice and we had a lot of fun today in class. We learned about the history of learning second languages and the different teaching methods that have been developed over the years to help teach second languages. We did some icebreaker activities, as well as had to get up in front of the class to get us used to public speaking with hand gestures, eye contact, projecting our voices, etc. We also learned a little bit about the Thai culture and got a “warm-up” on how to speak Thai – this is not easy in the slightest. I struggled – hard. With time I know I’ll get better, but the today’s practice was not pretty.

After class, my classmate Chris and I took a walk to the mall to get our Thai SIM cards activated for our phones and to take a look at the gym. The woman at the phone store was so helpful, which was great for us because we had no idea what we were doing. The gym was very nice but a little expensive for a gym! It’s around $60 a month and at home I was paying $20 a month – interesting what is inflated over here and what isn’t. After the mall, we walked back to the hotel and got some dinner on the way. We stopped at some food vendors and got lightly fried octopus in a chili sauce – SO GOOD! I also got an iced green tea, which I have missed so much since my trip to Thailand in March. These are my favorite drinks here and probably full of sugar, so I will definitely need to find a gym if I keep drinking them 🙂

We also checked out the Muy Thai training center that’s behind our hotel – really, really cool. I may train there one day just to see what it’s like. Everyone that was training when we walked in seemed very nice so it would be cool to go watch/train.

Went to a bar with Chris to celebrate first day of classes with some Changs! There are a few small bars right downstairs from our hotel – very convenient!

xo

Chang Chang

Chang Chang

My Vacation Became My Life

Greetings from Chiang Mai, Thailand! A few fun facts about this city:

  1. Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city, after Bangkok
  2. Chiang Mai means ‘New City’
  3. Chiang Mai city area has over 300 Buddhist temples
  4. There are estimated to be over 20,000 expats living in Chiang Mai

I first visited Chiang Mai back in March on vacation and I loved the feel of it – smaller city with lots of historic charm. I felt safe wandering the streets alone at 6 am when nobody was outside yet. It was the first time on that trip that I thought I could actually live here.

So, I’m back to the place where living/teaching in Thailand was just a small idea – now it’s my reality. Crazy how much can change in a few months. Quite literally, my vacation became my life.

As my parents and Peanut (my dog) dropped me off at the airport on Friday, I couldn’t stop crying. It was terribly difficult to leave them. I cried in the airport, on the 13 hour flight to Beijing (which may also have been due to the man behind me who took off his shoes/socks and stuck his smelly feet on my arm rest, but I digress), in the Beijing airport FaceTiming with my parents, and on the five hour flight to Chiang Mai. As brave as I’m trying to be, this is still one of the scariest, if not THE scariest, things that I have ever done. I’m leaving all of the comforts of home and my support system to try something new in a completely different location.

Today was my first full day here. I woke up around 2:00 pm (thanks, sleeping pills!), unpacked and organized my room, showered, and ventured out into the city. I walked down my street and bought some essentials and checked out the food stands along the way. I saw a beautiful statue/shrine of Ganesh along the way, which I cant wait to go back and take a picture of. I got some Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee – it was nice to have a little piece of home today! Also, I saw a woman bagging up some animal blood for sale – I don’t care what Anthony Bourdain says, you would not be able to pay me to eat straight up animal blood. And, there was man just giving another man a tattoo right there on the street – no tattoo shop or anything – wonder how clean that situation was.

I start TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) training tomorrow. I was hoping to meet some of my classmates today but didn’t really see anyone around the hotel! I’ll meet them tomorrow at 8:30 am – our classroom is only a 10 minute walk away, so very convenient. I was told that most of the students are from the US, with others from the UK, Australia and New Zealand. I think that I will start to feel more comfortable after I make some friends and get used to the area.

I’ll post more after I have some classes this week.

xo

Love these two!

Goobye dinner with my parents

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Love these two!

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Bon Voyage!