Honoring Teachers in Thailand – พิธีไหว้ครู ๒๕๕๗

Honoring Teachers in Thailand – พิธีไหว้ครู ๒๕๕๗

An assortment of wai kru flowers on phan พาน made by the students.

An assortment of Wai Kru flowers on phan พาน made by the students.

This morning I arose with the sunrise, before the sounds of traffic, even before the monks chanting, only the sounds of the occasional gecko and dog accompanied me. Again I felt overcome with gratitude for Thailand, especially since today was Wai Kru Day พิธีไหว้ครู. Wai Kru is the day to honor teachers. Students bring in flowers symbolizing respect, wit, humility, and perseverance to present to their teachers.

Students with their wai kru flower arrangements they made.

Students at Panyaden with their Wai Kru flower arrangements they made.

The same day our class was preparing the flowers for Wai Kru, there was a shooting at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon where a teacher was shot and another student was killed. That’s about 5 minutes away from where I taught elementary school for 5 years. My heart sank. Kids that I used to teach are in high school now, maybe some are even there. I found the juxtaposition of this and Wai Kru staggering. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Portland. It is still my favorite place in the whole US to live, but what is with the senseless killing? The thing that really made my stomach turn is how it’s become so common that no one pays that much attention anymore. Sigh.

It’s true, right now Thailand is in a military coup d’ état. What does that mean on a daily basis? Military presence around Chiang Mai, and there was midnight curfew around the country that was just lifted. Otherwise, things seem to be the same. 

Wai kru flowers

Beautiful Wai Kru flowers (and eggplant) for teachers

Wai Kru is a lovely ceremony and is just one more reason I think I’ll stay for a while longer. Sure, the driving is harrowing, it’s hot, there is pollution, snakes, spiders, and mosquitoes are abundant, but each day I am reminded of why I love it here. Today, is a fantastic day to be a teacher in Thailand.

Teachers with their wai kru flowers

Teachers with their Wai Kru flowers

Aging and Appreciations

Aging and Appreciations

Am I thankful about getting older? I’d love to say yes, but that would be a lie. However, I do have appreciations to people who made getting older a lot less painful.

Having a birthday on a Friday is fantastic thing. My colleagues and students were sweet. Kru Goy got me a traditional Lanna (northern Thai) style shirt in my favorite color. She and the students made me a card with a lotus flower on it for my Thai name Bua (lotus).

My Lanna style blouse and bua card from Kru Goy

On the evening of my birthday I made plans to go into town for yoga and out for sushi with two friends. It had been a sweltering day so I was not totally shocked when my car overheated and wouldn’t start again.

Naturally, it was not in the the best spot during rush hour traffic and 95 degree weather, so I got out of my car and asked someone to help me push my car to the side of the road.

I could have done 2 things in this situation:

1 – This sucks! Oh this f-ing piece of s–t car! I’m missing yoga! My plans are ruined and it’s my birthday, anger and pity party for one…on and on like that.

Or…

2 – Well, looks like my car overheated, let’s focus on a solution..  “Khap khun khaa” (Thanks) for the push to the side of the road, “Rawn maak!” (it’s very hot while motioning to the car). Pop the hood, trust that the Thai person, named Noy, would help me, while trying to communicate in my rudimentary Thai and smile.

I chose option 2 and this is what happened: Noy got some water and started putting it in the engine and asked his daughter to go get some more and sent her in search of coolant maybe? She came back and said some things to me in Thai that I didn’t understand. They were clearly trying to help me, but there was a language barrier. Let’s be honest though, do I know all about car parts in English?

Suddenly, I realized I knew a bilingual mechanic whose number was in my phone! As I was talking to him, Noy had called one of his friends who knew English so she could explain to me what was going on. So we switched phones to communicate with our respective cell phone interpreters, as you do.

Next thing I knew a mechanic showed up (maybe this is the what or who the daughter went in search of?) He spoke a little English and explained what was wrong basically saying, “Hot. Need water. Broken.” Noy and daughter left me with Aoun the mechanic and I thanked them profusely.

In the meantime, my friend Kate who I was supposed to meet for yoga and dinner, lives in the opposite direction, but offered to pick me up. How kind! Then I talked to Yuzu, my other friend I’d be meeting, who would be passing by here on her motorbike and she offered to pick me up, which made more sense.

Back at the car in our fundamental Thai and English, Aoun communicated to me I’d blown a gasket. OK. I should keep refilling the water. OK. I should not drive my car too far. OK. The charge for this roadside assistance $0. I will take my car to him later.

I drove my car the short distance home and Yuzu drove me to town that night. She, Kate, and I had a delightful evening of sushi then 2 1/2 hour spa – foot massage, Thai massage, herbal compress massage, and facial. Relaxing, refreshing and so inexpensive!

The next evening my friend Azriel and I got tea at a very European style cafe in the Old City. On the way there he stopped at one of the many street food stands and said, “I love these Thai donut things, but they’re so unhealthy.” I responded that I really don’t like donuts, but I do have a sweet tooth for chocolate cake. After we sat down at our booth, I saw him talking to the waitress and thought he was telling her it was my birthday. Then he came back and said, “Do you want to share a cookie?” Ok, why not. About 30 minutes later, I turned bright red while being serenaded the birthday song by the entire wait staff and was given this:

Frosting flowers and ‘Happy Birthday K. Elizabeth’ artfully decorated the plate with the chocolate cake – my favorite. I was totally faked out by the cookie decoy. Nice one Azriel!

Everyday I am humbled by the kindness and generosity of Thai people, and this weekend my expat friends too. I think its true that ‘when you smile, the world smiles back’. It might not be possible to be a ray of sunshine every moment, but if I find something negative, I try to also find something positive. Somehow that seems to work. This advice was given to me by a priest in high school, and a monk has shared similar information with me here. You know what, those guys just might be on to something.

I am now half the King’s age, and we were both born on a Monday, could that be auspicious? A big thank you to all the people here who made my birthday special, and all those faraway who sent their wishes. You are the best!

Gratitude

Gratitude

I just had the most amazing experience that honestly makes me feel like I was blessed with a miracle. Really.

I was leaving Songkhla bound for Hat Yai to catch my flight to Chiang Mai. It would have cost  700 baht for a direct cab to the airport, which just seemed like too much. Besides that, I had plenty of time to take the bus. Hat Yai is a very small airport and I’d most certainly have enough time to arrive early. My flight was at 1:40 and I left my hotel just before 11:00 knowing that the minibus from Hat Yai to Songkhla took 1/2 hour as had been my experience on the way in. Add probably another 10 minutes in a tuk tuk to the airport. Simple. I’d get to the airport about 11:40 ish, which was 2 hours before my flight. No worries.

I took a tuk tuk to the bus stop. This was a real bus, not a minibus. When I got there it was 11:05. The woman told me the bus would leave in 5 minutes, then she said, “Maybe 10 minute”. Ok, I’ll leave at 11:15, and still be at the airport by around 12:00, fine. Still an hour and forty minutes before the flight.

As I was sending a text with flight information to the person picking me up from the airport, whoops, my flight isn’t at 1:40, it’s at 1:20. Shoot! We better start moving soon. We left at 11:30, and again aligning Songkhla with my memory of Puerto Colombia, the bus moved at a glacial pace leaving town. I knew in the first few minutes that I should probably get off the bus and flag down some type of more direct transport to the airport, but I did not for some reason. I kept thinking, Hat Yai isn’t that far away, surely the bus will start to speed up soon, people will stop getting on. OK we’ve passed the University, surely we’ll speed along now. Maybe we did, for like a kilometer or two. Then we stopped at a bus stop for about 5 minutes. I got off the bus with my bags trying to hail a taxi. It was nearly 12:00. No taxis, tuk tuks, songthaews, or motorbike taxis to be found anywhere. When I said, “Bpai Hat Yai, taxi?” Everyone just pointed to the bus.

I decided to re-board the bus, and maybe get off somewhere that looked like there was more possibility of there being a taxi, at least we’d be closer to town. Hat Yai is only 26 kilometers from Songkhla, it was 12:05 and I saw a sign that Hat Yai was still 19 kilometers away from where I was. At least we were moving at a reasonable rate. Oh, but then we go stop to get some gas. That’s it. It’s 8 past 12. I’ve got to be at the airport in 10 minutes, and that is not going to happen.

I grab my backpacks and squeeze past the head-covered Muslim women toward the door. I see one of Thailand’s ubiquitous 7-elevens. I decided that someone there could call me a cab. I peek in and there was a long line. Nope. I headed next door to a kind of nondescript restaurant/coffee shop. The guy at the counter didn’t understand my mostly English with a limited peppering of Thai (who can blame him?), but realized quite obviously I was desperate for help. He pointed to a table. Three men in some kind of chemical company uniform shirt are sitting at the table having coffee. They could see my sense of urgency. I wanted them to call a cab for me or something. At this point it was 12:10. I could not register the expressions on their faces. The oldest of the 3 men asked me in very good English when my flight was. I said, “1:20 – I should be there now.”

He calmly replied, “OK.”

I asked, “How?”

He replied “No charge.”

I smiled, but still didn’t quite understand how I’d get to the airport. One of the 3 men, the youngest looking one this time, stood up and said in fairly good English, “I take you in my car.”

Those of you who have not traveled out of the US may be thinking, are you crazy Elizabeth?!! Don’t get in this strange man’s car! But, I sensed everything would be fine. More than that, I was grateful. Thank God for my Piscean intuition, which has served me well. I knew it would be OK.

Sweating as I enter his immaculate new-ish car, I see the clock which reads 12:11. We exchange names, Wilson, or Windsong, not sure which, says it will take 1/2 hour from here. Yikes, that’s even further than I thought! If I arrive at 12:41, will I make it on the plane? It’s not looking good, but luckily Hat Yai is a small airport. It will take a minor miracle for me to catch the plane, but we’ll see.

Wilson, or Windsong and I talked a little bit about things. He is from Nakon Si Thammarat. He works for Chem something. He lives in Hat Yai and is going to back to Songkhla after he drops me off. So, that means he is driving a 1/2 hour each way just for me. Again, I cannot believe the kindness and feel indebted to him.

We cruised along down the road. I arrived at 12:44, he was right about the 1/2 hour. I sneak some money in his glovebox which he refuses and he said to me, “It’s a gift.” Unbelievable! I leave the money there anyway. I cannot thank him enough in Thai or English. I ask how I can pay him back. He just says, “Mai pen raiMai pen rai means a lot of things in Thai, but it can translate to, it was nothing, you’re welcome.

Can you in your wildest imagination picture something like that happening in the US? I cannot.

I go through a mini security check point at the airport door, which to me seems like a logical place to have security, and once inside I run to the Air Asia terminal. It’s 12:51. I say,  “Chiang Mai, I’m very late.”

The woman sends me to counter 1, where people are amazingly still checking into the Chiang Mai flight. She waives the 100 baht late check in fee. I run upstairs to another security. As I’m in line, I can understand enough Thai to know they have just begun boarding my flight. It’s 1:05. I board the plane at 1:10. We take off on time. I made it! I can’t actually believe it! I am writing this on the flight now.

So, yes, I love Thailand. I love Thai people. I am extraordinarily thankful to Wilson. Metta loving kindness to Windsong or Wilson from Nahkon Si Thammarat. This just goes to show how lovely and warm Thai people can be. I am still astonished that I made it on this flight. I am a very lucky and grateful person. This display of kindness to a complete stranger in a foreign country has not gone unnoticed. I need to start giving back…and then give back some more. Metta metta metta.