Amazing sunsets every single night!

Made in Thailand

If I was a typical backpacker and got a tattoo every time I had a few beers, I’d get one that said “Made in Thailand” on the bottom of my foot. For all of our sakes, thank goodness I’m not one of those typical BP-ers and I won’t be getting this ridiculously silly and tacky phrases etched forever on my foot.
But, I always thought it would be neat to have a tattoo that meant something profound. People constantly pointing to it and asking you the meaning/story—a reminder of some important part of your life (or at least let’s hope it was). So, it’s kind of like a sacrament—the tattoo is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace —pretty good PK interpretation if you ask me! If you aren’t lucky enough to have a priest as a father like me and/or attended Happening, that may sound like strange definition of a Sacrament, but I promise my priest-y father and uncle can recite this definition at the drop of a hat (as proof at Hannah’s wedding & therefore making it an accurate/correct definition!…)
But anyway, riding back to Bangkok on my 12 hour day bus from Koh Tao I thought of this silly phrase. My biggest thing about leaving early is I don’t want to fall into a pattern of luxury so quickly at home. Spending 6 weeks living out of a backpack, made me realize I have way too much stuff. Now let’s be real. This doesn’t mean I’m going to go home and throw out all my high heels. (take a moment now to realize I haven’t worn heels since church on October 12th 2012—7 whole months!) I’m not really sure what it means actually. I guess while I walk around in one of my twenty pairs of high heels I want to be reminded that people in Cambodia live with out AC and fresh water? I don’t think that’s what I want at all? I’m still trying to figure out exactly what it means..
But, to me the phrase made me laugh out loud. It’s the first time I’ve actually thought of something with a dual meaning that would remind me of my time here. Let me explain. When I told my co-worked and friends and family I was moving to Thailand, more often than not the response was “Isn’t that where everything is made?” And I would smile and say “No, that’s Taiwan.” Which isn’t all together true, lots of things are made here too! But it still made me laugh and I knew that’s what they meant.
Now for the second meaning— the deep proud backpacker one ha! I can’t say I’ve changed into this whole new person in Thailand, because I haven’t. I think I’m relatively the same. But, I do think I have learned a lot and most of it I’ve learned has been these past few weeks I’ve been traveling. Actually, I think I learned the most most most this last week and half I traveled alone. It was really hard at first and I was so scared to travel all by myself, but I’m so glad I did. I am so proud of myself too!
Traveling alone is easy and hard at the same time. In Thailand, backpackers are a dime a dozen. They are everywhere—but it doesn’t mean that it super easy to meet a lot of people. The first few days I arrived in Koh Tao, I felt really lonely. Only one other girl was staying in my dorm and she didn’t seem to be around! I took a deep breathe and was determined not to get upset or feel lonely! After all I was sure I would meet tons of people in my scuba dive class.
Well call me lucky or not, just so happens the day I signed up for my Open Water Certification at Siam Scuba happened to be the day no one else did. So, once again very lonely, I started watching all the information videos. UGH it sucked—so boring and so outdated! But, I made it through watching the videos and met my instructor!
Call me lucky/unlucky again—I really can’t say, but let’s be honest I was hoping for a cute Australian Scuba Instructor. Instead I was matched up with a beautiful French girl who wasn’t very bubbly/friendly seeming initially.
The dives started and day one was MISERABLE! I tell my mother everything, but I couldn’t even bring myself to tell her just how miserable it was. I thought it’d be fine with underwater breathing and I love sporty/athletic things/water!—I was certain I’d love scuba diving! Well after Day 1, I made myself follow the phrase “fake it, til you make it” and I was determined to make it through.
I can’t even say how glad I am that I pushed myself to keep going. The things that were hard on Day 1, suddenly didn’t seem hard anymore on day too. My heart didn’t race and I mastered every skill she asked me to do with absolute ease and suddenly it started being fun!
My favorite day of diving was my last day. We left really early in the morning—6am. What I didn’t realize before going to Koh Tao is that is quite the party island. I went to get water before our dive at 7-11 and it was the funniest mix of people. Half drunk stupid people and half serious divers. The girl in front of me in line was juggling 4 bottles of Chang beer and 2 cans of Pringles. I kept a close eye on her and thankfully took a step back as her grip slipped and she dropped two of the bottles on the ground. The poor diver in line in front of girl ended up with a bleeding foot minutes before heading out of a dive. Thankfully I slipped out of the store and we headed out to sea before I had anymore drunken encounters.
On most days we shared the boat with other divers and instructors that were doing either fun dives or advanced certifications. This day however, no one else was on the boat, but my instructor, the caption and me. At our first dive site we went to 18 meters. (meters means nothing to me still…the first few days when I was told I would dive to 18 meters, I thought she said I would be diving to 80 meters because of her accent—goes to show just how map/distance savvy I am..) This was the coolest dive, not a single other diver was around and we went to site where there are large schools of baby barracuda fish. There were million—I followed her lead and we started to breath very slowly and establish neutral buoyancy (smart words from my course!) and suddenly they cleared out of the middle made a ring around us. They kept circling and swimming faster and faster. It was amazing… I think I have mermaid blood after all…Day 1 I was really thinking I might be full-blood pirate!
The dive ended around 10am and I was done! I couldn’t believe it. It was four days of really hard work! And don’t worry, I ended up meeting amazing people too. Sometimes you just have to push through really crappy and lonely times when traveling to end up on the other side. My friends in Koh Tao had nothing in common with each other except for our shared love of scuba diving and we all somehow have been changed/made into something new after our time spent in Thailand. Maybe we should have all had a few beers the last night and all had our feet etched with “Made in Thailand.”
Looks so peaceful—so many people
Tuk Tuk tailgate
Crazy trees growing all over the temples
At my favorite temple—Banteay Srei: Angkor’s “The Temple of Women”

Angkor Wat Sunrise—amazing!

Angkor Wat Sunrise—amazing!

Vietnam & Cambodia recap

I’m in a cab headed back to Thailand. I’m feeling rather melancholy about leaving Vietnam and Cambodia behind. I’ve had such a great time getting to know the two cultures and comparing them to the well known smiling Thai culture.
Before leaving I read a lot of travel blogs that compared the tourism rates in SE Asia. Thailand wins by a long shot. Everyone talks about thai hospitality and their constant smiling go-with-the-flow mentality. Articles about Vietnam talked about how people are constantly ripping you off and trying to sell you something to make a buck.
Just walking down the street a few feet will attract at least four of five vendors shouting “madam you buy something.” And this was a statement, not a question. It got old pretty fast. They would sell everything from bracelets to donuts to fingernail clippers.
If you can look past all of that, Vietnam is a great place. People are just as kind but they do try and make a quick buck when the opportunity presents itself. I realized that Thai people often try and scam us to, but normally I can tell this from the get-go. Where as in Vietnam, the people drew you in with their kindness and then stabbed you in the back (sounds so harsh- I know, but looking back I’m not even saying it as a bad thing. Just something you must be aware of! And they were excellent salesmen.)
Cambodian people on the other hand never tried to scam us once. Prices were consistent and we often found we didn’t even have to haggle the price, because it was already fair. Their biggest selling point is their Tuk tuks. Every two seconds you hear “lady Tuk-Tuk?” And yes we are known as lady in Cambodia and Madam in Vietnam. There Tuk Tuk business is huge! If they get you once, they immediately ask you what you are doing tomorrow in hopes that they can be your own personal driver for your visit. And you need a Tuk Tuk friend in Cambodia. If they can get you and you hire them for the temples they drive you around the entire day and wait on you the entire day.
We hired a man who drove a green seated Tuk Tuk (he picked us up form the bus station and his meek soft spoken mannerisms made him a winner! When picking a Tuk Tuk you just gotta go with your gut.)
We decide we wanted to see sunrise and he was there right on time— 5am! Without us even asking the hotel packed us breakfast (nice gesture, but it was just slices of wonder bread type bread and jam…) and we were off to start a long day of sweating, temple pictures and bumpy roads.
Sunrise was amazing, but was the opposite of peaceful. Since Angkor wat is quite impressive, so since its amazing we watched the sunrise with probably close to 500 other tourists. But it really didn’t seem that bad.
Angkor wat is the biggest and most impressive temple on the temple grounds.
It was built in the 12th century and covers a span of 3k, taking 38 years to build with a labor of over 40,000 workers. To grasp the hugeness, you have to actually walk up and all around the Temple. But first you watch the sunrise from the other side of the two lakes that are in front of the temple. The sun creates a beautiful reflection in the water. The strange thing about this perspective is that the temple look 2D/flat. It looks like a life-size post card.
After watching the sunrise and getting some bad over priced coffee and eating white bread with strawberry jam, we were far from properly prepared for the long hot day. But, we persevered anyway.
One of the craziest things about all the temples is that they let you walk all over them. I can’t believe that they aren’t closed completely to tourists for preservation purposes. But no, we get to walk, climb and touch everything. After spending about an hour at Angkor wat we head to the parking lot to find our driver. The lot is filled with Tuk Tuks who have set up shop for the day. It’s like a Cambodian style tailgate. They bring hammocks and hang them from one Tuk Tuk to the other, they had coolers and food. They spend the day outside chatting, napping and eating.
We think there is no way we will find our driver in the midst of all these people, but every time without fail he spots us and calls us over.
This area has millions of temples and it is impossible to see all of them in one day. We read our guidebook beforehand and decided on a few we wanted to see. They all started looking a little bit the same around 10am and we had now been there for five hours. We stopped for some sugary drinks to give us a final push for the last 2 hours.
I snapped so many pictures and I now cant even remember why for most of them. I kept having to remind myself about how old all theses temples were—some date back to the 900s. All having slightly different history and story. A few are Hindu, but most are Buddhist. We saw the temple from the movie the tomb raider, but we didn’t even realize it until that night. It started getting really hot about 8am.
The final temple was my favorite. We had to pay extra to see it because it was 40k away. I wasn’t really thinking and ks and miles still confuse me. This temple was SO far away and felt even further since we were bouncing around in a Tuk Tuk.
But when we did arrive it was well worth it. The grounds are extremely well kept and you can tell a lot of money has gone into the restoration and preservation of this temple. Being that it is so far away, there were a lot less people there which was nice. We tried our best to stay as long as possible admiring the intricately carved stones, but by now it was noon and we were beyond tired and the white bread and jam wasn’t cutting it anymore.
Our driver dropped us off at an Austrian/Khmer food restaurant that had a write up saying — “come hungry, big portions and cheap beer.” Sounded like a winner to us. It was really good! We got our fix of red meat and parsley roasted potatoes and cold Angkor draft beer. It was just about 2pm and our day came to a close!
Mom asked me if Angkor wat lived up to expectations. I think it did, but there were so many things that surprised me about these two weeks of traveling and maybe just because they were so unexpected that is why they rank higher up on the amazing list in my book. Here’s the order: 1. Killing fields 2. Vietnamese coffee 3. Halong bay 4. Angkor Wat 5. Cu chi tunnels
There’s the list and yes Vietnamese coffee is that good! I’m headed down to the south of thailand now to go diving. The island is called koh Tao and is often everyone’s favorite place in all of SE Asia. I can’t wait! Beach days and learning how to scuba dive will make leaving Cambodia behind much easier.
A little happiness that managed to shine through today

The memorial at the killing fields

The memorial at the killing fields.

On our way to the killing fields

On our way to the killing fields

Welcome to Cambodia

Where to begin? As my friend Alicia said over and over again there is just something amazingly special about this city. Before traveling to Asia I probably couldn’t have even told you that Cambodia was part of SE Asia- ignorant but true. And before teaching a full week lesson on ASEAN to my pre-kers I had absolutely no desire to visit Cambodia. When I started making flag color worksheets and PowerPoint for all the countries I fell slightly in love with the Cambodian flag— the massive image of a Angkor Wat stretching from one side of the flag to the other. I knew after that that Siem Reap would become a summer must-see.
As we started planning the logistics phnom phen (Cambodian capital) became a stop over point for us— a way to get between Vietnam to the magnificent Angkor wat. All I can say is that PP took me by complete surprise. Some where between the kindness of the people, the French wine and the hodgepodge of architectural influence I fell just a little bit in love.
But it wasn’t until this morning that I this Cambodian city really took my heart. I was welcomed with open arms into a resilient and healing culture. They invited in to hear their horrific stories of genocide and gave me a chance to feel helpful and hopeful.
So often when a community experiences something as horrific as genocide they close themselves off from others not involved. They present their pain to others with an automatic assumption that those not involved would never understand. They wall themselves off and try to heal as a community on their own.
Cambodians have done the opposite. I still can’t believe that before today I has no idea that a massive genocide happened in Cambodia less than 30 years ago. The man leading the Khmer Rouge was respected by other countries and even invited to be part of the UN. The world had no idea what was happening within the borders of Cambodia, but today I heard their story and they asked that I share that story with others. They want their story to be heard in hopes that nothing like this will happen again. So here goes nothing- I do hope I can do the story justice.
Today started with an early French style breakfast (baguettes, coffee and eggs). At 830 our new friend mr. Lan met us at the restaurant to drive us around for the day (he came highly recommended by our friend Alicia & don’t worry Alicia he was still wearing his scarf and sunglasses).
He led us to his Tuk Tuk and began to tell us the tale of his family and how the Khmer Rouge tore them apart. He lost his father and all his uncles during this time. He told us of how high ranking officials, professors, doctors, nurses and all those that spoke English or that were well educated for taken away and put in interrogation prisons. I’m nodding awkwardly as he tells me his story unsure how to take it all in. Unsure how to relate to a man in his 30s who has somehow picked himself up and carried on after so many bad things happened to him.
He then introduced us to his brother in law and told us his brother hadn’t had work all week and would it be okay if be drove us for the day instead. He said you help me and I help him okay?
And so we set off— 30 minutes later, one new face mask (purchased courtesy of our driver), a stomach full of nervous and our bodies covered with a film of dust and exhaust we arrived at what Farangs call The Killing Fields. Our driver told us to take 2 hours which I felt would be way too long, but smiled and nodded and we went in.
We each took an audio recording and a vow of silence and started our journey through the fields. At this moment all I knew was Mr. Lan story and a brief glance at Wikipedia.
The area was dusty but peaceful and the recording guided me to marked areas all throughout the fields. It showed me the massive graves of over 400 people, remains of bones, torn clothing and a lake that covered the bodies of many that are still buried beneath.
The audio recording was extremely well done. It let you ingest the information in the way you needed to—you could sit, walk the lake or just stare off into the distance. It was wonderful to be there and be silent and listen to this story of a small poor nation that watched its own people turn on each other.
In the center is a memorial that houses actual bones and skulls from the victims. The narrator told us that everyone in the city gathers at the memorial on April 20th of every year on the day that used to be known as the day of anger and has known transformed into the day of remembrance.
The recording ended with four testimonials that were written and said before monks to help them grieve, heal and forgive.
I feel like I’ve gone on too long already, but this day in the fields is something ill never forget. We next went to the S21 museum, an old high school that the Khmer Rouge turned into a prison. Thousands came through the prison and were forced to make up stories about being enemy to their own country. Each person that came through the camp was photographed and the photographs now line the walls of the now museum.
One the best ways for me to see redemption in something so awful is to somehow find away to help/give back. The last room of the museum was filled with drawings of young student’s ideas of peace. A small glimmer of hope.
We left with heavy hearts and ended the day at daughters of Cambodia. A non profit organization for women forced to work in the sex industry. The restaurant, spa and shop now provide 100s of women with an alternative way of life. Another heart wrenching story from PP but this one was a bit more uplifting and the delicious roasted pumpkin salad helped to ease the pain.
I’m sad to leave this city behind tomorrow. I’m still unsure what it is or was about it. I don’t think it’s anything I can say in words, but this place will always hold a special place in my heart.

Halong bay perfection.
First impressions of Vietnam: coffee, chilies, limes, rice hats and French architecture
Songkran craziness!! Buckets and buckets of water. Zero hope of staying dry!

Songkran to Halong Bay

So I know I’ve been bad about keeping up recently. I was kindly reminded by my ex coworker Alicia that maybe I should think of seeking out some guest bloggers due to my lack of posting.
But no worries lets hope I’m back. I’ve been in a bit of a funk since my dear mother left me here in SE Asia. I sailed away in a cab headed to my thailand home for a quick laundry load and a quick repack. It ended up being an even quicker repack than initially anticipated due to the fact that our ticket was written only in Thai and our landlady misinformed us of our departure time.
But we did make it to the bus station in one piece and we even got to witness a rather bizarre breathalyzer award show. Very strange and a story for another day.
We took our bus up to Chiang Mai which normally departs around 6 and arrives in CM around 6:30am. Unfortunately due to the largest Thai holiday of the year we didn’t end up arriving until close to 11am. It was quite a long ride.
Songkran, Thai new year is beyond words. I don’t even know how to start or where to end when it comes to trying to explain the holiday. All I can say is that it was a perfect time for me to get out of thailand for a bit. I think I might have exploded didn’t get out soon. “They” say around month 6, the new country’s customs/ foods/mannerisms/everything no longer seems as cute and beings to wear on you heavily.
Helen and I did manage to make it to the bus station relatively dry and we changed clothes in bus station bathroom.
The end of Thai new year took us to Bangkok for a night and an early departure to Hanoi, Vietnam.
I arrived with a stomach full of butterflies due to the fact that I was only able to bring one passport picture for my visa because everything in Bangkok had closed shop for songkran for over a week. We arrived and were efficiently shuffled through two different lines, paid our fees, stopped by baggage claims and were swooped off into a car headed to our hostel before we could catch our breathe. One of the most efficient travels to date!
We arrive and are greeted, quickly rushed in and told not to pay the cab or even think about touching our bags. With the amount of attention we were receiving you would have thought were staying in a suite rather than the $6 dorms! (I’m still on the fence about May De Ville, but customer service and sales is something they long ago perfected.)
Our first night wasn’t the best. The dorm was nice, just not our style. The room smelled of feet and no matter how many windows I opened I couldn’t seem to air it out. I woke up early to run the lake with a fiend from orientation which was a nice change of pace. The lake was beautiful and about 1 mile around. Reminded me of lake Merritt in Oakland and my LIC days.
The lake was full of people exercising which was also a great change of pace from thailand. The air seemed a bit cooler, possibly a bit less humid, but defiantly more polluted. I’ve never seen a city with a crazier traffic plan than Hanoi. The lack of sidewalks and paved roads left you in a daze trying to dodge motorcycles, bikes, vans, taxis and other people. Horns never stopped honking and one had to use wit and confidence when crossing the street.
Day one and two Helen and I spent admiring the French influenced arcetictchure, sipping the most amazing coffee I’ve ever had (they roast their beans in butter giving the coffee a rich chocolately flavor maybe similar to guinness beer that is like nothing I’ve ever tasted-pure perfection), eating pho and trying our very hardest to book a scam free halong bay tour.
Some how we managed to book an amazing tour: ODC tour company and our boat was named Elation. It was absolutely perfect. A quiet group of about 15—mostly couples and parent and son group. We somehow managed to snag the suite which had an amazing window view, huge bathroom and our own private balcony off the back. Helen and I could not of been more proud of ourselves because the planning is normally left to Alicia, but I’m happy to say she approved of our choice and gave it her Alicia soon-to-be-tour-guide stamp of approval.
We spent the first day on the boat taking in the breath taking views and relaxing on the upper deck. We ate fabulous meals that were even more courses than the pink beach club. Lots of veggies, fish and delicious fresh fruit juices were my favorite.
We kayaked around the bay. Which one would think this means you are dropped in a secluded closed off area of the bay without any large cruise ships, but no not in SE Asia. We bounced right alongside the old junk boats through a tunnel which did finally bring us to a quieter area. We paddled around a bit and then headed back to the boat.
Our boat was smaller than a lot of the others which was nice because it meant it could take us right up to the dock. We docked at a beach and climbed way up high to a breath taking view point. The craziest part of the experience is you climbing with a million other halong bay tourist, all of us gently fighting our way to the top.
The view looked like battleship—fake little toy pieces playing a game below. I think this is the most impressive, most beautiful and most touristy thing I’ve done the past six months.
We went for a quick swim after our climb but the water was cold and we opted for a beer on the beach instead. The day ended with a sunset toast on the top deck, another fabulous Vietnamese meals and a quick spring roll cooking class. We were all zonked and went to bed early, knowing that we had an early morning wake up call.
Breakfast was at 7 and we once again enjoyed a great meal. Then we headed to the amazing cave—which was fine but I always think of the trip we took in AR to see the caves when I was in elementary school and caves just aren’t really my thing.
But back out on the water again I was happy as a clam! The ride to and from halong bay was about three hours and cars really never stop honking here. I did notice one to many cars seemed to be honking at us for an extended period and we did eventually pull over for a flat tire. It wasn’t like thailand though. We got off the van and weren’t immediately sweating. There was even a nice breeze. The area seemed like a car shop area, but quite a few families had come outside to check out all the foreigners. Alicia, Helen and I started playing with one of the adorable kids and the next thing you know the mom invites us over to sit. She tosses her baby at someone else and rushes inside to fix us some delicious green ice tea. If that’s not southern hospitality, I duno what is! We were told people wouldn’t be as nice here as they are in thailand. The conclusion I’ve come to so far is that those that are nice are really genuinely nice and those that want to rip you off genuinely want to rip you off. I don’t have much other way to explain it. We’ve had our fare share of encounters of rip offs in just two days, but also some extremely kind gestures too.
The trip was perfect and we got to spend one more night in hanoi with Alicia. Alicia is my fellow wine drinker and fellow expensive food lover. So the three of us spent out last night dining at the number one rated tripadvisor restaurant in Hanoi. This marked our last night traveling together before Alicia heads home to the US and Helen and I head on to see the rest of Vietnam.
We left Alicia tonight, both of us a nervous wreck after reading mixed reviews about our quickly approaching 15 hour bus journey. Now on the bus breathing a small sigh of relief— we have aircon, the seats recline and there aren’t extra people sleeping on the floor just yet. And we have an extra exciting journey ahead. We will arrive in Hoi An tomorrow and will be staying with a family. We can’t wait! Tripadvisor is full of positive reviews and I’m hoping to maybe get in a yoga class or two. And to top it off Hoi an is beach city. I think this travel is slowly but surely heading in the right direction and the homesickness is starting to subside. Lets hope, because if not it’s going to be a long three weeks!

Mother Daughter

Mother daughter trip starts today! Whooo HOOO Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Koh Lanta, Krabi and Bangkok again—Here we come!
And obviously that map is just for looks. Everyone knows neither of us know how to read a map…
And this pack is not packed anywhere near as professional as it was the first time.

Little Life of Me in Chonburi

So what should one do without a job? I realize I should be delighted to have these few days of nothingness. When is the next time I will be able to spend a week doing whatever, whenever and however I want? No deadlines, no alarms, and no responsibility. This all seemed fine and good until one morning I woke up to no internet. In a world that is just a few clicks away from wifi, take it away and what does one do?
Honestly, I’m still not really sure? I only have fifty or so songs downloaded onto my computer (at home I live off Pandora and here 8track), I don’t have a TV or any movies (project free tv and hulu), I upload books onto my nook for free from the library and they expire every two weeks aka I needed to update it and most importantly how am I suppose to research and plan the next month’s worth of travel without internet? What has my world come to? An internet dependent life to say the least.
After cleaning the dishes, sweeping, hanging my clothes to dry, walking to buy coffee and eating breakfast—I was completely out of ideas of what to do? Should I go shopping, always a good idea? Then I remembered the good ole days of Word Perfect and how I could actually write a blog post in Word and wow post into the lands of the Internets when they are alive and well again.
So, I shuffled through my measly excuse for an itunes library and settled on Gavin DeGraw—bringing me back to tenth grade promises of a Riverfest preformance (which sadly did not happen..too cool for school) and started typing away. I’m not even sure where this blog post is going?
My life is bizarre in Thailand. There are plenty interesting things I could/should write about. But, five months here, I can’t remember what is strange and what isn’t anymore. What are things that people at home would want to read about (aka my family, pretty sure no one else reads this?)? So we can settle with A Day in the Life of Teacher Esther. Why not..? I suppose if it isn’t interesting, we can blame it on the lack of creative juju that comes from wifi land.
Monday through Friday, I wake up around 6-6:30. Depending on which coffee spot I want to go to—one on the way to school (more expensive, but a wonderful AC break on the blisteringly hot walk to school) or the one a little past school. The walk to school takes about ten minutes. Every day I walk by 1 temple, 2 coffee shops, 3 traffic policemen blowing their whistles every two seconds for no reason, 4-6 stray dogs, 7 smelly garbage cans and almost get hit by at LEAST 8 cars.
I have three classes with 35-38 students in each and I teach each class twice a day. The school is set up in a square, with a large courtyard in the middle. In the center of the courtyard there is a large Buddha statue and this is where Flag ceremony is held every day. All the doors are sliding doors, like the doors on the way to the balcony of a beach condo (sliding doors are everywhere here), but instead of leading you to a beautiful view of the beach, they lead into the classroom. Each room has two sliding doors, but no windows. The rooms do feel bright and happy though and everything is painted purple—the school’s and the princess’s color. All rooms have fans and AC—we are lucky, because it gets extremely hot.
Flag Ceremony, one of those things that is extremely bizarre initially, but now feels normal. First, I must explain about the speakers that are all throughout Thailand. Thailand has speakers everywhere throughout cities and is very 1984-esque in that announcements and songs are constantly blasting. If one is lucky enough to be caught during a playing of the National Anthem, you must stand respectfully still no matter what you maybe doing at that moment. The whole city just freezes—quite freaky to see.
At 7:45 we are signaled by the Flag Song that is it time to report to the courtyard. Each class stands in two straight lines: one for boys one for girls and the teachers stand on either side. The teachers use this time to “check” all the students. The girls cannot have hair longer than chin length and for boys if there is enough to pull—it is too long, finger nails must be cut short, shirts tucked in and girls must have a bow in their hair. One day, one of my teachers put neon rubber bands on the boy’s hair that was too long. They had little ponytails all over their heads—it looked very silly.
So flag starts with the Anthem. We must all stand still with our arms by our side. Following the anthem, two students from P5 (grade 5, here it is called Prathom 5) lead the school in a call and response singing prayer. Since I am in an area with only kindergarten students, it sounds awful. My students are always off key and late/early. Following the prayer, we have announcements. This is all in Thai and everyone is sweating bullets at this point. Or at least all the foreign teachers and all the kids are, I don’t know how, but my Thai teachers never seem to be sweating. Sometimes announcements last two minutes and sometimes they last close to fifteen and I never have a clue what is going on. I normally bring out my phone and look at Instragm pictures—Friday is the best because #TBT pictures distract me from the unbearable heat.

Once dismissed we return to our AC filled classroom. At this point one of the students puts out four small chairs for the teachers: head teacher, co-teacher, student teacher and me. We all sit and the co-teacher calls up each student one at a time. They must one-by-one wai, Sa-wat-dee-kah and hug all Thai teachers and then wai, good morning to me. Yes, I hug 38 snotty 4 and 5 years olds every single morning. After this process is finished, I have a little time to facebook, email or lesson plan before I teach my first lesson.
I then teach back to back rotating through the three pre-k classes. Each week is a different topic and is the same topic that the Thai teachers teach, so they learn all the vocabulary in Thai and in English. This is a good and bad thing. Sometimes when translated into English, the topic doesn’t make any sense. For example one week was Magic Eyes, one week sticky rice—how I am suppose to teach about sticky rice for a solid week and what the heck is Magic Eyes?
It is incredibly hard to hold the attention of 37 Thai students for even five minutes, but they love competition, so we spent a lot of time playing games: Girls versus Boys, students versus teacher etc. While I am teaching, at least one Thai teachers stays in the classroom (or they are supposed to). They sit to the side with a ruler in hand ready to whack anyone playing, talking, or as they like to say “being naughty.” At first, watching the students get hit was a weird thing. But, after trying to teach a few lessons without my Thai Teachers present, I realized I needed them there. Most of the time they just instill fear in the kids (not necessarily a good thing..), but the kids know I would never hit them, so why would they ever pay attention to me? Towards the end of the semester, I did get to were I could handle the class on my own, but it was exhausting and the quick easy fix = Thai Teachers mere presence in the classroom.
So after teaching three lessons, we head to canteen for lunch around 11. The students sit in an open area cafeteria: girls on one side, boys on the other. They walk to the cafeteria in two lines and split down the middle once they reach the canteen. One spoon, one fork and one bowl/plate of food: one portion of food and if still hungry, they raise their had and we come give them another serving. They don’t have anything to drink and there is no option of what they eat. If they don’t like it that day, too bad—eat it anyway (and the teachers make them eat it).
After they have finished (teachers make this a crazy fast process), we send down the dessert box where they use their fork to stick whatever gummy treat they will have that day. They pop the treat into their mouth and the slide the box down the table and put their fork and spoon into box that comes next and then slide that down. Very robotic and assembly line-esque. As soon as the two boxes reach the end, clap-clap “boys stand up” and the boys file into line, push in their chairs and carry their dish to a large trash can, pour in any left over food, and then place the dish into a large vat of dirty dishes. I then take the kids back to the classroom where they take off their shoes (students never wear shoes in the class, forgot to mention that), grab their tooth brush and metal cup. Then they sit in two lines in the hallway. Clap-Clap— “Girl stand up” and the girls file down the hallway holding out their toothbrush and I put toothpaste on for each of them and they respond with “Brush my teeth, thank you teacher,” some of the suck ups even say “Thank you, I love you.”
I then stand at the bathroom doors, “hurry, hurry, hurry, lay-o, lay-o, lay-o” (lay-o= hurry in thai and after teaching pre-k for 6 months I tend to repeat things three times..). Once they finish drinking water and brushing their teach, they grab their pallets and silk blankets and pillows, find their spots on the floor and sit quietly. This is my cue that it is time to go to lunch. At this point the Thai teachers lead them in a prayer and then they nap. I spend the first hour of nap time at lunch. Every day I go to my Vegetarian restaurant for lunch, get a mango for dessert and a coffee for a treat. When I get back the lights are out and the AC is on full blast. The best and worst part of the day. Sometimes the kids really fall asleep, but more often that not they don’t. They squirm and roll around and it is really hard to keep them quiet. Especially since nap time sometimes last as long as 11:30-2:45. It is a range and sometimes it isn’t that long, but sometimes it really is that long, which is crazy.
The thai teachers decide when it is time to get up and each teacher is a bit different. When the lights come back on, half the kids jump up and other half are lost in a sleep trance so deep that even their friend’s tugs, yells and shakes can’t break. At this point, I grab the baby powder—yes another thing that seemed very odd in the beginning. All the students wash their face with water and then hold their hands to get baby powdered—I pour baby powder on their hands and then they rub it all over their face. The idea is that it cools you down and it actually does work. As you get older you learn to rub in the powder, but in pre-k they kids just spend the rest of the day with splotchy white patches all over their face.
They once again sit in two lines and wait for the afternoon prayer. Once they pray they systematically grab one bag of milk, one straw, and one snack. The snack and the straw go in their top pocket and they hold the milk with two hands, while I cut a small slit in the top of the bag (where the straw is later inserted). Then sit down, drink milk and eat a snack. Every day, same exact process. Some days bags of milk slip to the floor and some days they eat chocolate granola bars, some days fruit, but without fail the process of the day remains the same. Thai school is full of structured events.
After snack, I read a story to each class. But, you can’t really read the story. They won’t be interested in the least. Pretty quickly, I picked up on what words they know and what story lines they like. Same as any other kids around the world, they laugh when you change your voice, love to repeat words/yell using motions and the biggest success of the year is putting the ones that are well behaved into the story. They just love it. Once upon a time Penguin…. (in case you are confused Penguin is a student’s name).
After story, my long hard work day is over. Can you believe that is what I’ve been doing for the past 5 months? It is without a doubt the easiest, yet most exhausting job I’ve ever done. I had to bring back a lot of my cheerleading attributes—smiley, peppy, sing songy Esther somehow managed to remain present for almost the whole school day, leaving grouchy, tired, cynical Esther to enjoy the rest of life.
And I suppose that is what you do on a day without internet & a job—write a three page blog post about your life. Self absorbed? Just a little.