Wrapping Up September

Wrapping Up September

September is usually the time of year where students head back to school, the days start getting shorter, and the weather starts getting cooler. Here in Thailand, we are finishing first semester of school, which started in May, it’s the rainy season, but still warm, and due to the proximity to the equator, the change of day length is hardly noticeable. I’ve managed to work hard, and balance that with a lot of laughs.

Still love the view from my porch in the rainy season, euphemistically known as ‘the green season’. You can see why here.

Getting final projects done at school, with portfolios, and report cards is always a substantial amount of work, but we also had a final presentation for the students to show their parents what they’ve learned over past semester.

One of the topics my students learned about was the environmental impact that humans have caused on Earth. They chose a topic that they felt passionate about, and presented their findings through art work and an informative poster. The students used mainly recycled materials to make their art and posters. They not only stated the problem, but researched and gave suggestions for potential solutions. We turned our classroom into an art gallery and invited parents and guests to come see their art opening, have Q and A with the artists, and enjoy some homemade refreshments.

Dolphin slaughter in Japan

Oil spills

Air pollution – note the different sources of pollution, the acid rain, and the dead flower

polluted beaches

polluted oceans

Kru Goy and I are very proud of them

This was only part of the subject matter they taught our adult guests, they also had PE, art, math, and music. Each class got 15 minutes for the students to teach the activity. It was like ‘speed teaching’.

In maths class, the students challenged the adults to see who could make the perimeter of a shape the quickest using wooden pegs, string, and measuring tape. Um… the students won, but our string was all tangled – unfair! It was good fun anyway.

In music class the students played a song, then taught the adults to play the same song on a variety of instruments.

I was too involved having fun doing the PE and art activities to take any photos.

At the end of the day it was time for cleaning the classroom Gangnam Style.

Cleaning Gangnam Style

Sadly, we are saying goodbye to two wonderful teachers. We sure will miss you Kru Claire and Kru Yuzu.

Kru Claire as the princess looking for her lost friend.

Kru Yuzu, playing the lost friend

Outside of school, yoga, ceramics, and Thai classes, I’ve managed to find time to have fun with friends in lovely Chiang Mai.

Getting coffee and croissants for 25 baht with Claire, Yuzu, and Jessica at ‘the farang farm’.

farang farm foliage

Enveloped in verdant hues – more evidence of the green season

As long as it’s not raining, Chiang Mai looks about the same at night all year long. Here are some pictures taken from the sweetest sidecar in the city – Christophe’s Aum Mobile. Their blurriness gives them an ethereal sense of movement that I feel represents Chiang Mai nighttime.

Songthaew driving around the moat

Christophe shopping late night at the flower market

Rose in the Aum Mobile. Seriously, look how beautiful that vehicle is! (Obviously, look how beautiful Rose is too:) While Christophe drives with Rose and me in the sidecar, both Thai people and foreigners smile.

Tuk tuk drivers and passengers giving us the thumbs up.

Christophe and Rose in the sweet side car near the moat.

laughing in the sidecar…

…as we drive the wrong way down one way street. Mai bpen rai it’s Thailand.

After a night of laughing and sidecar adventures, I love that the gardenias (ketawa) still smell so good the next morning.

Now September is done, we’ve had a full moon in Aries and it’s the beginning of a new month – new beginnings abound. Unlike teachers in other places, it’s now our holiday here. I have the majority of October off and tomorrow I am heading to a place I have wanted to go for about 15 years and that is Burma (or Myanmar). When I was here in 2000 I thought I’d visit there, but the political situation left much to be desired, so I didn’t. Burma still has a lot of restrictions on travel and modern conveniences: no ATMs, limited and slow internet, and I won’t have a cell phone.

I’m signing off for about 3 weeks, but will return with photos and stories-o-plenty. Enjoy October in all its autumnal glory.

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Driving in Thailand

Driving in Thailand

Driving in Thailand has a completely different set of rules than the driving I’m used to. I have no desire to drive really, but see it more as a necessity and a safer option than the motorbike. I work about 35 minutes south of the city. The first time I got a ride out there, I literally could feel my anxiety rising in my body at the thought of riding a motorbike all the way there and back each day. I moved closer to school, but I still need to get around, so,I sucked it up and bought a 1993 automatic transmission Honda Civic for 120,000 baht. Yep, that’s one thing in Thailand that is expensive: a car, even one that’s 19 years old.

I’ve realized that my car is that of an Asian teenager. A Honda Civic with tinted windows. Awww yeah! I feel like an Asian teenage boy…and that’s when I realized what driving here is: a combination of 16 year old boys and grannies on the road. This makes for extremely fast and reckless, or extremely slow and overly cautious and driving, both equally not safe on the road.

Let’s start with some basics: the driving is on the left side, the opposite side of the road than I’m used to. The wheel is on the right, so had to adjust to realize how to turn right and left properly. How many times have I turned on the windshield wipers for the turns signal? Quite a few.

My friend Sam said it’ll take about 3 days to get used to driving on the other side of the road, but about 3 months to get used to the way people drive. He was right.

Narrow roads are very common place – they were built for bicycles and motorbikes, not cars and trucks. In year 2000 in Thailand, there weren’t many cars on the roads, mostly motorbikes and songthaews. Now there are still loads of motorbikes, but a lot of cars too. When there are two cars, or worse a car and a truck, approaching each other, often one will have to stop and pull over just so they can pass each other. Another thing I’m glad someone told me – when someone flashes their headlights it means don’t go. On the positive side there is not a lot of horn action unlike other countries I’ve visited in Asia.

Around the moat in Chiang Mai is a merge-y affair. There are cars, motorbikes, songthaews, tuk tuks, tourists on foot not knowing where they’re going, and bicycles, all competing for the same space. At least the traffic all (mainly) moves in one direction. There are areas that look like complete merging chaos, but somehow it works. I don’t know exactly how, but it just flows.

Often there will be a bicycle, motorbike, motorbike and side car thingy, car, or truck, coming at you the wrong direction on the highway. Stopping and pulling out from roadside food vendors with no warning is another reason to be on the lookout. Motorbikes will often have 3 people on it, none wearing helmets, and the driver looks like he could be 10 years old, and probably is.

This outstanding picture was taken by my friend Dan Rose while he was visiting Thailand. That is a family of 6 on a motorbike.

Overtaking on either side of the car when there even is the smallest of windows of opportunity is the way it’s done. Often this is just to speed up to wait at a red light. On curves cars and trucks don’t mind crossing over the middle line in the road, which is merely a suggestion in Thailand. Driving on the shoulder happens all the time, it’s really just like another lane here.

Another obstacle, the occasional chicken crossing the road.

It’s a good thing people meditate here – you have to be completely alert on all sides of the vehicle, at all times. It takes constant awareness. I have gold, silver, and bronze colored Buddhas protect me in the car. I buy them flower offerings from the roadside sellers.

Inside my car. Lovely smelling flower offerings.

After having driven here a little while now I’ve noticed that what was initially very scary driving, is less scary when you are the driver rather than the passenger. Do I love driving here? No. Do I love driving anywhere? No. I am getting used to it here.

Be careful. Expect the unexpected. Be mindful. Enjoy the adventure. Watch out!

The Unsettlement of Settling In

The Unsettlement of Settling In

Moving into a new house can be stressful. Moving into a house out of town, in the countryside, by myself, in Thailand, when my only transportation is a bicycle (at least for the moment), is kind of isolating. Even though the house is furnished, I need to buy so much stuff. I don’t have pillows, sheets, cleaning supplies, food, or anything. I had the realtor drop me off at Big C to stock up on the basics. My favorite songthaew driver, named Mr. Neng, took me home with all my household goods. Today, she wasn’t there, but usually he drives with his little one year old daughter happily riding along with him. No such thing as a car seat in a songthaew, she just has a little spot with a blanket.

I cooked my first meal in my new house thinking that it would help if I listened to Fresh Air, like I often would when cooking dinner in Portland. The interview was about Portlandia. This made me homesick. I got the feeling something wasn’t right.

I was doubting my decision making and feeling like maybe I shouldn’t have moved here after all. What am I doing here anyway? The house is nice, but I’m feeling like now I’m just far away from where I need to go. I don’t want to drive. I do love it here, I’m just feeling very anxious. Everything from driving to snakes is making me nervous. Snakes and driving? I know it’s a weird combination, but there are snakes around as I live next to a rice field. Driving here has a whole different set of road rules and types of vehicles.

What a difference a day makes. I awoke the next day feeling immediately better when I looked outside and saw this:

View from my back porch. January 7, 2012. There will be rice planted soon.

The rice farmers are planting way out in the field.

View from the backyard

I cleaned inside, unpacked, my internet was installed, my washing machine was dropped off, I went sheet shopping (FYI decent sheets cost a bloody fortune here). A nice lady named Nok, a friend of my landlady who works in my neighborhood community, picked me up and showed me the back way in and out of my neighborhood. She was extremely friendly, had good English, and wants to make sure I’m comfortable in my new home. My tension started to ease.

Doing laundry here is a bit of a process. Since I haven’t done laundry in a machine in months, I thoroughly enjoyed it. First, the washing machine gets filled with a garden hose. When the grey water gets drained, it just comes out another hose, which I use to water the garden. It takes a while, but I found it soothing. I love my view and my garden which has some herbs, flowers, tons of medicinal plants, and fruit trees, and I look forward to planting some vegetables in the backyard.

My outdoor washing machine - filled with a garden hose. The grey water is used to water my garden.

View from my house on January 7th at sunset.

Feeling more settled, that night I called Mr. Neng to take me to Yoga Tree to watch a documentary film called Freedom Ahead about seed saving, self/community reliance, and permaculture around the world. Some places not faraway from here, The Panya Project and Pun Pun, were featured. I saw a bunch of people I knew there, and was invited to a party where I stayed until very late. I’m beginning to feel like I am starting to find a little bit of a community here.

After that late night, I went to yoga at Wild Rose the next morning, out to lunch with some new friends, then for a Thai massage, and Sunday Walking Street. I found some little lamps for my house and a dress. The woman didn’t have a mirror, and asked, “You have camera?” It was not a bad idea.

Good looks with the yoga top and dress at Sunday Walking Street. I bought the dress, which I usually wear without the yoga top underneath.

Tomorrow will be my first day back at school after the break. I’m feeling much more at home in my house, ready for working, and grateful that Mr. Neng, the songthaew driver, can take me to school. I think it’s all going to be OK.

Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai

It’s time to get a new visa after being here nearly a month. I wanted to take a look at Chiang Rai, because I know there are a lot of schools up here and beautiful countryside around. Most people do their ‘visa runs’ at Mae Sai into Burma and back. It’s the cheapest and a little bit closer, but I wanted to head to Chiang Khong and stop by Chiang Rai on the way.

A Songthaew in Chiang Mai - sometimes know as the red bus

My transportation of the day included: a songthaew (meaning two rows. It is basically a covered truck with two benches to sit on in back), my feet, on the back of a motorbike to the bus station with my big backpack while my driver navigated flooded streets, bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, then a bicycle taxi. Most of the bus ride to Chiang Rai was through gorgeous countryside. My favorite thing that exists many places in Thailand are the trees that line the road wrapped in the saffron colored cloth. I felt safe in all my modes of transport, but saw the aftermath of a motorbike crash that I wish I hadn’t seen just before arriving in Chiang Rai.

The countryside near Chiang Rai

Rice fields near Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai is significantly smaller than Chiang Mai with a lot fewer tourists. I looked around at some pretty basic guesthouses then upped it to flashpacker and was quite pleased.

Fish pond outside my flashpacker hotel

My flashpacker room in Chiang Rai

The night market in Chiang Rai seemed the place to go for food and shopping. Lots of things here to eat and not eat.

Yes, lots of insects for dinner. Perhaps the other white meat. I couldn't do it.

What I did NOT eat, but hope to someday get up the nerve to try. They are exactly what they look like - insects.

What I DID eat - a delicious vegetarian hot pot soup thing cooked over a bucket of coals at my table.

My dinner in Chiang Rai

Yum!

I didn’t spend much time here, and would like to explore further, but it’s October 1st now I’m on to Chiang Khong before my visa expires because I want to stay in Thailand for a while.