A Year In

A Year In

It is my 1 year anniversary of living in Thailand. I am extremely lucky and grateful that I live here everyday. My life is good, and for the most part, I am happy.

I arrived here without a job, or place to live, knew very few words in Thai, and only knew one person in the whole country. A year has passed and I have a wonderful job, a lovely place to live, I know a bit more Thai, and have made several friends too. I still really love it here and Chiang Mai feels like home.

Today after work, Thai class, and running errands, it was close to 7 and dark out on my way home. I was driving through my neighborhood there was a motorbike coming toward me as well as a skittish looking cat. The cat got spooked and it jumped toward the grass and then toward my car. There was no bump or anything, but I didn’t see what happened to the cat. I turned around and my headlights shown on a small feline body on the road. Oh no!

I didn’t quite know what to do, but I knew I had to do something. I checked for a response from the cat and there was none. I tried to remain calm. Five dogs across the way were barking at me from behind a gate.  They kept barking so a person came out. I said, “Kor toad kha. Mew dtai.” The woman came out and I showed her to see if it was hers, she said she fed it. We established the cat was dead and I started crying. In my more than 20 years of driving, I’ve never hit any living thing (besides insects on the windscreen) ever.

The lady was amazingly kind and was more worried about me. She told me to not feel bad and, “Many cat get hit this road. Is part of life. The cat go on to a better life now.” Her husband came out with a box, and we put the cat inside and she took it away. She reassured me that accidents happen. I tried to stop crying, but felt really awful. I love animals and the last thing I want to do is harm them.

I drove home slowly, then called my teaching partner Kru Goy because I wanted to do something for the kind woman. She explained that Thai people would think it’s weird to give something to the person who fed the cat, as she already knew I was sorry. Thai people view death differently than Westerners – death is a part of life and you wish somebody to be born into a better next life. She suggested I meditate and pray for the cat to have a better next life. Stay calm. In the morning I could make an offering at temple and she agreed to meet me at a wat near our school.

The following morning we met at a beautiful wat. Goy talked to the monks. I made an offering of money in an envelope and Kru Goy wrote something in Thai on it. There were two glasses, one full of water and the other empty. Kru Goy said I should pour the water from one glass to the other as the young monk was saying his blessing. After he was done, I was to pour the water glass out on a tree. Kru Goy told me that the monk’s blessing said I didn’t mean to harm the animal and we wished it well.

I couldn’t believe it, but afterwards I genuinely felt better. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted. I felt forgiven.

Death is always a reminder that life is short. We best live in the present.

Mae Hong Son – Views-o-Plenty

Mae Hong Son – Views-o-plenty

The picturesque lakeside wats (temples) of set against the backdrop of misty mountains give Mae Hong Son แม่ฮ่องสอน a ‘Northern-Thailand-as-done-by-Walt-Disney’ look. It appeared to be so quaint, that I wanted to see it for myself. I’d been wanting to go there for years, so for my 4-day weekend, I thought I’d go.

Mae Hong Son วัด Chong Kham

Mae Hong Son is a province and a town in the most northwestern part of Thailand that borders Burma (Myanmar). It is home to many hill tribes: Lisu, Lahu, Hmong, Yao, Karen (including the long neck Karen – the women who wear the rings around their necks), Shan people from Burma, and more. Twelve years ago people liked going to the town of Mae Hong Son to do treks. Now most people go to Pai. Mae Hong Son town kind of feels like the place that time forgot. The road from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son apparently has 1864 curves. It is a windy windy mountainous road that motorcyclists love. By bus it takes 8 hours to get there. By tiny prop plane it takes 35 minutes. I opted to spend the extra baht and fly, which offered fantastic views without the car sickness.

The way I got to Mae Hong Son

Without a doubt, the smallest plane (aircraft?) I’ve even been in.

{Side note, since when did planes become aircraft? Whenever they do the safety announcements on any US airline, they refer to the plane as ‘aircraft’. Why? It always makes me feel like I’m on some secret military mission or something. I’m not a fan. I will continue calling an airplane an ‘airplane’ or just ‘plane’, not ‘aircraft’. I’d call this one a prop. plane. Carry on.}

a view from the plane

Although it is the provincial capital, Mae Hong Son is a small town. I walked from the airport to the center of town, which took about 15 minutes. I’d read that accommodation was uninspiring due to the peak of its popularity being about 12 years ago, so I wasn’t expecting much. Where I stayed was clean, adequate, and close to the lake. Walking around the lake and visiting temples is how I spent the late afternoon. The reason we had a 4-day weekend was because of two Buddhist holidays. The first one called Asalaha Bucha Day is important because of three events occurring on the day called the “Triple Gem” – The Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. It was after the enlightened Buddha  and gave his first sermon. I spent the afternoon merit making, making donations and offerings the local lakeside wat – วัด.  I dined at what appeared to be the most happening place in town – Sunflower. I ended up meeting some Thai guys and we enjoyed listening to the singer, who sounded a lot like Jim Croce – a name I’d all but forgotten until I heard the guy’s voice. I requested “I’ll Have to Say I Love You In a Song”. Unsurprisingly, to me at least, the guy knew it. Gotta love that sappy 70s music. I do, and so do Thai people.

Wat Chong Kham at night reflected on the lake

The Thai guys I met. I tried to speak Thai with them. Conversations were short.

The next morning was เข้าพรรษา Khao Pansaa, the beginning of Buddhist Lent. It is called the rains retreat and lasts 3 months. My goal is to meditate each day for these 3 months. I got up early and that is just what I did.

Although this place was closed…

…I did manage to find this.

From the lakeside I had a view of a wat up on the mountain. I wanted to walk up there and spend some time meditating there.












The walk in itself up to the hillside wat was divine.      

This one might be my favorite. I climbed these steep stairs too.

I eventually arrived at Phra That Doi Kong Mu วัดพระธาตุดอยกองมู.

temple upkeep

The day one was born in Thailand is significant, in a similar way that the month is important in Westen astrology. I was born on a Monday, the same as the Thai King. Its color is yellow and the Buddha for Monday is standing.

Here was my offering to the Monday Buddha

I meditated, or rather tried to meditate, and made merit.

I got here…

Incredible view from the coffee shop next to the wat

This is the last picture I could take, before my camera battery died.

Mae Hong Son was a lovely little town and I’d like to visit there again. แม่ฮ่องสอน สวย

Olympics in Thailand?

Olympics in Thailand?

If Thailand held the Olympics, what would their mascots look like and represent? We asked students that question, and here’s what they created:

Thai flag + long neck Karen hill tribe mascot

Olympic rings around an elephant nose with Thai colors

Elephant, flags, torch, water representing the Gulf of Thailand, flowers, and rings

The colors, flag, and water guns on the feet for Songkran

At Panyaden School we celebrated the Olympics and started with our own opening ceremony.

The torch relay

Olympic flame

Mascot interpretive dance showing the events – here is swimming

We had 5 different countries competing representing one of each region of the 5 rings: Nepal, Luxembourg, Kenya, Argentina, and Papua New Guinea. Why these countries? We wanted to make sure not to have any of the students’ many home countries in the mix.

Here is Kenya

Of course we had a few events.

A fun day was had by all.

Wai Kru Day พิธีไหว้ครู

Wai Kru พิธีไหว้ครู

The idea of honoring teachers is all but lost in the West, but here in Thailand it is alive and well, especially on Wai Kru day.

Wai kru flowers from students.

The wai kru ceremony พิธีไหว้ครู is a Thai holiday in which students pay respects to their teachers to show their gratitude. It is traditionally celebrated on a Thursday about a month after school begins (our school year started in mid May). Students give their teachers flowers on platform called a phan. Obviously, giving flowers is a nice gesture, but each flower has a meaning.

Here’s what Wikipedia had to say about the offerings:

The traditional offerings for wai khru represent a symbolism of student qualities, namely:

  • Ixora (khem, เข็ม) flowers, which while closed form pointed buds, symbolizing sharp wit.
  • Cynodon dactylon (ya phraek, หญ้าแพรก or Bermuda grass), the rapid growth and resilience of which symbolize perseverance and the ability to learn.

    Bermuda grass

  • Popped rice (khao tok, ข้าวตอก), which symbolizes discipline.

    Khao tok – popped rice

  • Eggplant flowers, which bow low when nearing fruiting, symbolizing respect and humility.

    Eggplant flower

Wow! That really puts the despicable bermuda grass in a whole new light – perseverance, hmm, that’s true enough, I like that new perspective. I love the symbolism.

Here’s what we made at Panyaden:

Teachers sculpting the phan

Students making the flower phan

Kru Goy with the bags of rose petals you can buy at the local market for 20 baht

Learning to sew banana leaves

I was taught how to make this lovely flower offering

I love these flowers. I found out they are called dok rak, meaning love flower. They’re so cool looking!

Here was my final product

These were the offerings from our class

Aren’t they beautiful? It makes me feel fortunate to live in a place where teachers are honored…and in such a lovely way.

Happy where I work. Happy in Thailand.

Students offering teachers the flowers on Wai Kru Day.