Apologies.

Sorry my little blogettes, all five of you that actually read this. Training has, predictably, gotten busy. Insert excuses here. After we finally swear in, I should be better. Know this, I’ve passed my language test with flying colors, the training staff has recommended me for service, and I have just one more interview before the big day. The 21st is oh so soon and everyone is obscenely excited about it. Baller. Expect some love after the 21st!!

Over the hump.

A week of practicum has flown by! So this is what all that taco tech has been for. All those hours learning about lesson plan objectives and classroom management come together (right now, over me! Sorry, I just had to go with the Beatles on that). I still need to get the hang of lesson planning and then actually sticking to what is on the paper, but it’s coming along. Even more difficult is lesson planning with other people, something we got a taste of Monday in taco tech when they did a demo of ‘co-teaching’ should be. See, TCCO isn’t about being an English teacher in a foreign country. Our focus is to work with a Thai counterpart and helping them become better teachers. Last Monday, we had our counterparts come in so that we could share our ideas with them. My counterpart is actually my host Meh’s younger brother. Oh life’s little circumstances. This person saw me with chopsticks in my mouth as I pretended to be a walrus. Awesome.
The cool thing about Monday’s ‘hub day’ was that one of the higher up monks in Thailand came to speak to us about the Buddhist influence in Thailand. Don’t ask me to pronounce his name, all I could probably get is Venerable something or other. When you think of the stereotypical monk, the look of this man is what comes to mind. Amazingly enough he is able to trace his heritage and Thai Buddhists recognize him as a blood descendant of the Buddha. Bad Ass. He discussed the role of Monks in Thai society and important functions they serve to the people in their communities. Answering all of our questions about time (it’s infinite, think that there is no past but your past does affect your present which is technically right now, but you shouldn’t worry too much about it because you can’t change what is going to happen because whatever you do to prepare for it will change so live in the moment and so on and so forth, yes this sentence is way too long, I know). The calm he evoked was incredible. He had an answer for everything. He talked about how awesome it was to not have to make choices because he doesn’t buy food. Monks rely on the local people ‘sai bot’ or giving merit (in this case, in the form of food). I do this with Meh a lot. A little chuckle of a story will be coming up about this. Essentially he has little to no possessions and dedicates himself to teaching people about true Buddhism, not the animalism practices that we hear about. He also carries a MacBook Pro and is pushy about keeping to his presentation’s time limits. Irony, dear friend of mine, you make me giggle.
In PST, we’re taught to honor the extremely high social status of monks in Thai society. As a female, I’m not allowed to touch or give anything directly to a monk. Given these rules (for lack of a better word), I’m a little star struck when I see a monk. Basically, I’m frightened to speak for fear of saying the wrong thing and making a terrible cultural faux pas. PST suggested though to take part in our family’s sai bot, if invited, as a way to show our respect. So Meh and I usually leave our house about 6:15 am and walk to the end of our driveway to give some of our food to two local monks. Back when I was sick, this amount of exercise was enough to send me into a coughing fit suitable for someone with emphysema. I tried really hard not to in front of the monks, but I couldn’t help myself! So after another round of Japanese Encephalitis immunization, I was feeling a little mai sa bi (sick) and didn’t go with Meh to sai bot. She comes back that day and tells me that the monk asked about me!!!!!!!! What?!!? This is like Brad Pitt, a senator, and Oprah rolled into one inquiring about my health because they noticed I had a terrible ai (cough) the previous day. Even thinking back about it is blowing my mind. I realize I’m making a bigger deal out of this than it probably actually was, but still, it’s a monk!
Speaking of celebrity though, the best part of my day is rocking up to school in the morning. Biking down the school driveway and towards the parking lot, you would think that this would be a normal everyday activity. Nay, friends, nay. This is about the closest equivalent I will ever get to opening the door to a limo at a red carpet event and I’m Lady Gaga in the meat dress. Thai people have been pretty chill about the whole foreigner thing. Yeah, there has been some curiosity and people calling things out to us as we bike along, but compared to China this past summer, this has been not a big deal. Well, that was before practicum. The first day I biked to school in the morning to go to language class I got the royal treatment. I foolishly rang my bell to get the attention of Tammy, another trainee, to wave hello. Out of nowhere, about 50 screeching elementary school kids start chasing me to the bike area. And when I say screeching, I mean screeching. There is a particular tone that only 6,7, and 8 year olds can reach and when they do it in unison, it can be quite overwhelming. If they had cameras, the flash bulbs would set the place ablaze. The funny thing is, after sprinting after me, paying respect with wai-ing and sawatdi-ing, they are amazingly silent as they watch me get off my bike, lock it up, and walk into class. My Thai is still pretty limited, so that all I can really do is ask them how they are and tell them I’m going to school. Besides that, as a teacher, I’m supposed to reinforce the hierarchy between us, something that I’m definitely struggling with in my class. Nevertheless though, I always give them a smile and indulge their giggling faces with a bell ring. This is one ego boost that I’ll take every time.
Everyone has probably heard of the Bill Crosby show “Kids say the Darnedest Things” or something to that effect. Well imagine that, but in Thai. This is my life in practicum. I won’t go through a daily list of how each day went because that would be terribly boring for you, so we’ll stick to the Sports Center moments. In the middle of a lesson, one boy asked me a question, in Thai, which I didn’t understand. This is hardly unusual because while I am learning a ton of Thai right now (I’ve graduated to making statements like ‘I do not like bananas because I think they smell,’ this is no small feat here friends), I have trouble with listening comprehension when someone speaks at a normal pace. Unsatisfied with my lack of answer, the boy then walks up to the teacher and asks him the question. His question wasn’t too out of the ordinary for a curious 12 year old, he wanted to know why my eyes were blue and not brown. Again, still pretty normal. But then, my coteacher asked me, like really asked me, what the reason was for why my eyes are blue!! I mean, how do you explain genetics to a bunch of eager eyed 12 year olds and a teacher that wants to know too?! There were some more easily answerable questions like how old are you, how tall are you (eye roll), and where are you from, but they were all in Thai making it a bit of a challenge for me, one I enjoyed immensely. I made the most progress with one gal that one the first day wouldn’t even look me in the eye. She would physically turn her head away so that I couldn’t see her face. Aai (shy) to the max. But on Thursday, she was one of the only students that actually did their homework of drawing a picture of their family members. I gave her a big gang mak ka (great job!) and she blushed furiously, but seemed pleased. One thing the resource volunteers have mentioned to us is the time and effort Thai kids will put in to drawing pictures and I can see what they mean. On Friday, once everyone brought their pictures in, there were some absolutely beautiful drawings that were, for the most part, colored in and extremely detailed. The best one had to be from one of the troublesome boys though. Instead of drawing all of his family members, he gave me a picture of himself in the style of Frankenstein but bloodier. It was hard not to laugh and applaud the appalling picture. This is the life of a teacher.
In other news, we have a practice LPI (language proficiency interview) this week to monitor our progress in Thai. I know that I shouldn’t be, but I’m kind of nervous for it because it’s with the different directors of our program. Our real LPI is in about a month with hired language analysts. Technically we’re supposed to reach a certain level of proficiency, but it seems that as long as you demonstrate a strong desire to improve, they’ll let you swear-in. A list of important dates include, February 15th site interview when we get to state our preferences of where we’re going to spend the next two years, finding out on the 21st where we’ll actually be, going to BKK on the 24th (!!!) and then spending five days at site from the 25th to the 1st of March, LPI on March 12th (EEK!!!!), another week in homestays with a farewell party on the 19th, swearing in (and finally being a volunteer instead of a trainee!) on March 21st and then moving to site three days later! When I look at the schedule in this kind of format, it seems like the blink of an eye. Especially with how quickly last week seemed to move, we’re definitely finished with a solid part of PST. I know I still have time left, but I’m almost missing my homestay family and other trainees already. I get to see them everyday, tell them funny little tidbits, and learn from them all the time. Having my independence taken away was thoroughly annoying at first, but now that I’ve gotten somewhat used to it, it’ll be almost weird to have it back. Not being exhausted at 8:30 every night? Having free time of which I can do what ever I want? Being allowed to go places and do things by myself without someone else there too? This is a bit of an exaggeration, but still, it’ll be nice to have the whole weekend off to go and do what I please. Granted I’ll be in the middle of a rice field, it’ll be 100 degrees, and the closest Tesco will be a 20 km bike ride (if I’m lucky), but I could still do it, if I wanted to. This is what I signed up for though and so far, it’s been pretty phenomenal.

Emotions.

On Monday, I’ll have been in Thailand for three weeks. There is such a broad range of emotions that go along with that, it’s hard to know where to start. For one, really, it’s only been three weeks??? It feels like I’ve been here for months with all the things that I’ve learned and experienced. Every day feels like a week here for all the different emotions and things we have going on. It’s on my bike rides through rice fields and I look around me that it hits me over and over again that, oh yeah, I’m in Thailand. Hm, life is pretty awesome right now. Taking out the illness factor that is still plaguing me in the form of my asthma and the jam-packed PST schedule, I’m serenely happy here in Thailand. The weird thing is, I can remember with perfect clarity being in Philadelphia. How nervous I was to meet all of my fellow Peace Corps trainees and how I wondered how in the world I would remember all (or at least most) of their names and stories. Somehow, I just do though. Kind of like how I’m actually progressing in my Thai language skills.
I love learning Thai. Outside of the ridiculousness that goes on with my host family every evening, it’s what I look forward to everyday. Well, that usually helps contribute to the hilarity, mostly because they’re laughing at my attempts at Thai and I thoroughly enjoy supplying them with material. I love picking up words in sentences and the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Peace Corps language training relies on coming up with the meaning of the sentence rather than translating it into English. While this can be thoroughly annoying in class when we’re not allowed to speak English at all (but we cheat wonderfully with some Thai-lish) because we have to guess a lot, I can say, with all honesty, that I’m not really translating in my head. I have more of a problem just slowing down the speech that I’m hearing before getting the meaning, but then responding in Thai. While nowhere near bilingual, I’m really surprised with my brain’s ability to do this. Then again, my brain often surprises me, which is a bit weird since it is my brain after all. Getting back on the Thai track though. Coming home from a long day at rong-rian (it’s really training, but in reality it’s school, there’s no other word for it really), the fun really begins, which brings me to my next topic.
I love my host family. I really, really do. My meh and I are like BFFs. There is a ridiculous amount of miscommunication, but she cracks me up. I think the feeling is mutual. We usually work on my homework together before/after dinner. One such lesson included time. To demonstrate nighttime, meh says to me ‘ohhhh doctor Dracula’ and proceeded to hiss at me with fangs that came out of her cheeks……. My life is ridiculous. I reciprocated the hilarity with this gem. On Wednesday, we had the extended family over to celebrate my sister’s 23rd birthday. When prompted to imitate the ‘meh monster’ for the rest of the family, for the fangs, I put my chopsticks in my mouth and pretended to be a walrus. Yes, I have that kind of humor. And we all giggled uncontrollably. Something tells me my corny wit is going to go over really well here. Once again, thank you Peace Corps trainers for making such an excellent match.
She genuinely worries about my health as much as my own mother. Always makes sure I’ve taken my medicine, that I have my inhaler, wears my mask when biking, and hardly lets me leave the house without a sweater even though it’s usually a perfect 70ish degrees in the morning (hooray ‘cool’ season). I think it’s so funny that she always makes some kind of move that she thinks will make me understand the rapid Thai coming out of her mouth. For example, she’ll ask me a question while we’re eating dinner (food, the subject that I know the most about), like something about school, and it’ll completely throw me, so I just stare blankly. She’ll usually repeat it, but then raise her eyebrows somewhat suggestively a few times. Yes meh, the meaning of the Thai words are going to magically going to pop into my head while you wiggle and waggle your eyebrows at me. I usually laugh at her at this point and I like to think that she understands how ridiculous of a notion it is, but realize this is likely going to be one of those things lost in translation. This happens a lot when I think I’m explaining something clearly to my sisters about where I’m going or what’s going on with school. It helps keep things less awkward because they can speak semi-decent English, but I worry maybe I’m not immersing myself enough. For that, I turn to Thai television.
Let’s clear something up. I do not understand 99% of what is going on in these shows. The words are even less clear than in real life. Does that stop me from watching them with my sisters? Hell. No. For some reason, I find it even more entertaining than American TV. There are a ton of soap operas that seem to be the main format of shows here. My absolute favorite is a real doozy of what I thought was a vampire-based theme, but I just found out it’s about not being human. Well apparently you can be a human, ghost, or something in-between. I think? The most entertaining part is the special effects circa 1990s Power Rangers. I’m not joking. I wish they had a clip on youtube so that I could post the awesomeness that is a fight scene on this show. Tonight on the show, a man dressed as a Las Vegas style show girl (that would be major riap wrong friends) saved this other girl that everyone seems to be after. I’m not really sure why everyone is after her, but the main vampire-ghost man is the strong villain. The vampire hero however plays the saxophone very emo-esque, because, you know, life is tough as a Thai ghost person. If it were in English, I wouldn’t bother. The not having any idea of the dialogue, fantastic (cally awful) acting, and special effects just make this a no brainer for me. Plus, I get time in with the host family while I query them about what is going on, added bonus. This is my free time in Thailand.
This week, I start my practicum teaching. I’m really happy that the school is only about 200 meters from my house. Life’s little circumstances worked out to being that my co-teacher is actually my meh’s younger brother, who lives just down the driveway at our grandparents’ house. He’s at our house all the time and acted as a more complex/grownup translator for my family. It helped me feel more comfortable with the idea that I’m in charge of a group of children’s education (14 to be exact, for 9 whole days). This week in taco tech focused on writing lesson plans and objectives after visiting with our counterparts and observing a classroom. I’m not very sure of the lesson plan we wrote because I don’t know how entertaining it will be for a bunch of 12 and 13 year olds to learn how to formally and informally introduce themselves to each other. Adjaan made me feel better by saying that most important part is that they hear what it’s like when native speakers talk to each other. Somehow I don’t think that will be quite enough for Khun Chadchaya as we had to turn in our lesson plans for review on Friday. We each have a PC trainee partner in addition to our Thai counterpart. It’s nice that we have someone else there with us to help teach, but difficult in getting everyone together. The original nine days is cut short with my class because they’re going on a boy scout/girl scout camping trip for three days and don’t have school. Yes, they wear their uniforms to school all the time. They look like 1950s Annie Oakleyesque types about to head out on the frontier when in reality, they camp out in the schoolyard. Like any good baseball team, the coaches aka teachers wear the uniform too. It’s awesome. I think my entire week was made when we walked in to meet the paw-ah (principal) and he had a camping hat reminiscent of what Smokey the bear rocks out. Life in Thailand, mai been rai.

Rollercoaster.

One of the bad things about living on a farm is that the gai-chan (chicken song) wakes you up everyday.  Well at least if you’re a six-foot American girl living with a farming Thai host family.  For the first few weekdays, I was awake and moving at 4:15 AM because our chickens don’t just crow once.  They crow at midnight, one, two, three, three-ten, three-fifteen, you get the picture.  If they don’t wake you up, one of the five dogs on the compound will see something in the dark and wake you up.  Are you noticing a pattern?  What I’m trying to say is, in the morning, I’m up early.   This is nice as it’s still really cool outside, I’m actually fresh and aware of my surroundings.  I’m able to get things taken care of that I’m too busy/exhausted to do at night.  If you had told me that I would like the fact that I’m awake before 5 AM everyday when I was in America, I would laugh in your face.  At this time, my parents are usually the only ones up with my Paw already out in the rice fields and Meh is making breakfast or other housework.  Breakfast is usually something with egg, rice, and the previous meal’s meat.  My krap-krua has already realized how much I love milk, so I’m usually with a juice box of chocolate milk.  That was how Monday morning went.

Our families were supposed to lead us to school, but I was to be picked up by someone else’s family.  I wasn’t entirely sure how this was going to work, but I just went where they told me to go.  Standing at the end of my driveway, with my meh of course, I couldn’t help, but feel like a kindergartener off on their first day of school.  Billy Madison suddenly came to mind so I changed some of the lyrics to “Back to school, back to school, to learn Thai and prove I’m not a fool….” My meh was getting worried when it was getting later and later and there were no other bikers until….oh!  Here in a line, was all the other trainees from further down the road.  On I hopped to the blue bus-bike line to school waving goodbye to my Mom.  We were a little late there and were scolded accordingly.

Peace Corps training sessions are necessary and important to learn policies, procedures, and security measures, but sometimes (actually more like nearly always) hard to sit through all day.  This was one of those days, same with Tuesday, except we that we got immunizations.  Now I’m not to love being stuck with a needle and injected with a dead virus, but I understand their importance so that one of us doesn’t get an illness and spread it to more people.   We were warned that about a third of us would have a reaction to our Tuesday shot of Japanese Encephalitis of some flu-like symptoms about six hours afterwards, but don’t worry, the longest they’ve ever lasted were twenty-four hours.   HA.  I started feeling a little woozy in our after TCCO Technical (we’re starting to call it taco tech) session, but told myself to suck it up since it wouldn’t be lasting very long anyway.  The rest of the session went by with lots and lots of questions about the Thai education system, but the exciting news was that there was a volunteer there!  She chimed in occasionally which we all liked because she really knows what it’s like working in Thailand.  It helped that she was really nice and very enthusiastic, so that boosted our power-point weary spirits.  The bike home actually really helped clear out the congestion in my nose and I started to feel a little better until I got a shower.   I thought that would cool me down, but I was actually still really warm before going to bed.

Wednesday morning, I noticed that I had slept through the chickens, which was weird and actually heard my alarm.  I hadn’t slept well going to sleep with what I thought might have been a slight temperature and had a dream that I was quarantined, so I decided on an off-chance to check my temperature with my Peace Corps provided Medical Kit (da-da-dah!).   Turned out I had a lovely 102 degree fever, yummy.  When I woke up, I wasn’t in very much pain.  It was uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to miss language class after two days of going through the other sessions.  My Meh sent me back to bed after informing the higher-ups that I wouldn’t be coming in to class that day.  It was after a nap that my body decided that it hated me.  I was literally singing to myself ‘I am in misery…’ you know, the Maroon 5 song?  I don’t know what it is about the last two months, but I’ve gotten sick, like can’t get out of bed sick, more times in the last two months then I have in the last five years of my life.  It hasn’t been fun.  I missed the following morning language session and Meh drove me in for the afternoon taco tech.  It goes to show how much we do in one day because the past few days, I’ve been trying to play catch up.  I can’t tell you how many sentences have started with ‘oh, we did that when you were gone….’ You would think that I took a semester long sabbatical!

The one good thing about being sick is that I got pretty close with my family in that time, my Meh in particular.  She speaks very little English, so our conversations were pretty hilarious in my delirious state.  It was kind of soothing in a way as she clucked over me in Thai and I would gaze up at her through my mosquito net.  She went above and beyond a ‘homestay’ Mom had to do and treated me as one of her daughters.  I don’t have enough Thai words to properly say thank you.  I don’t know if I ever will.  We had many inside jokes that came through that situation, my favorite being ‘monster Meh’.  This evolved from when she says that I have to eat before having my Tylenol, even when I’m not hungry or she’s not there.  She set one of my sisters on me one afternoon when she went to the temple.  My sister said I had to eat or Meh would smack her across the butt.  I don’t think Meh actually would have, but I managed to tell her when she came home that my sister beat me until I started eating.  We all giggle because they know I exaggerate things (funny how that translates even when you don’t speak the same language).  So now when she wants me to do something though, monster Meh (with finger fangs) comes out and we laugh hysterically.  Yes, Peace Corps, you made an excellent match here.

I now have a new nickname too, given to me by Meh.  My sisters both have J names and Erin ends up sounding more like Air-lein, Meh named me Joy because I bring her laughter.  It made me smile from the inside out.

 

When in Rome…

It’s been awhile, so we have a lot to catch up on!

Our story last left off with us going to our Thai family homestays.  We were told that we are to be one of the family, meaning helping with household chores and having to do our own laundry.  After a morning session of ‘things to prepare for’ like how a Thai family eats dinner, preparing for bed, squat toilets/bucket showers, and how to do laundry, and a language lesson with our permanent adjaans (teachers), we entered the big meeting room divided between us trainees and our prospective families.  As we were sitting in our tambon (village) groups, I said to someone next to me, this felt like the kid’s book, ‘Are you my mother?’ Dr. John made a speech half in Thai and half in English and then we were off to find our families that were holding up our ugly non-smiling pictures Peace Corps had taken a few days prior.   Admittedly, I was a little nervous.  My stomach had butterflies as we stood and found our families and I thought, I’m here, in Thailand, in the Peace Corps.  Finally!

I found my family pretty easily, actually I think they spotted me first and were waving my picture to catch my attention.  We didn’t really say much, my sister said something introducing them before my adjaan came over and translated a little bit for us.  They wanted to know how old I was and where I come from, which I stuttered over magnificently.   I’m finding that whenever I have to speak Thai to someone new, my crippling shyness shines through and I mostly just stare at the faces I do know.  I need to get over this, like yesterday.  Back in the story, we decided to go get my bike and head home.  It was a fairly quiet car ride home except for a few questions my sister asked me in English, mostly because my Thai vocabulary had been exhausted.  My family farms, we our house is a little bit off the main road, which I like a lot.  The driveway is a bit interesting, especially in avoiding the potholes in the dirt road.  But you’re rewarded with these fantastic views of several lakes and seeing all kinds of animals along the way.  We share the area with our grandparents so there are animals running all over the place between the two.  We have two dogs, three chickens, and one cat that stay with us on a consistent basis.   After settling in my room and unpacking a bit, I figured it would be good for some family time.  Now both of my sisters can speak some English, so that’s good in that we can have some communication.  What’s not good is that I’m not sure what exactly they understand when I talk as I found out after a few snafus.  As we were all still in shy mode, we were all a bit awkward around each other.  What do I do in awkward social situations?  Make friends with the dogs of course!  I smothered Bap-si and Duk dik with attention as we sat outside.  Something I should congratulate the Peace Corps staff on is the amazing match they made with my homestay and I.  It was probably blind luck, but somehow they managed to put me in the best location I could really ask for.  My family has a western toilet, a shower head with running hot water, a washing machine, off the road, by multiple bodies of water, a balcony, palm trees, sisters, a crazy funny mother.  We laugh, a lot.  Life in my homestay is grand.  I absolutely love it here.

I sort of lost chronological order there, but let’s see Saturday and Sunday, lots of eating, awkwardness, and time in the hammock. Love the hammock.  Completely forgot about the party that went down on Saturday night.  So my family asked me if I wanted to go to a barbecue and then something about my Grandma, hm ok sounds good.  I’m expecting the immediate family and maybe some of the extended to be at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  I should have known when we got in the truck that it would a whole different story.  We didn’t go far, but these neon poles were in the ground for about 50 meters before we made the turn and my jaw dropped.  Here was a party of easily about 100 people with tables of food and of course karaoke.  My head on a swivel, my sister had to point out the table of people waving me down…..yay other Americans!  People I can talk to!  Not like we could hear each other, but still, friendly faces of people I knew!  They were sitting for dinner and I wasn’t in my seat for 30 seconds before a bowl with heaps of food in it appeared in front of me for a second dinner.  I could eat a decent amount, but as soon as I made a serious dent in something, more food would be added to my bowl.  We didn’t get to sit for long though, once the dancing started, we were all pulled up to start dancing in front of the stage around another neon pole with music that I think my hard of hearing grandmother in America could probably hear.  I decided there’s nothing to do in that kind of situation except to be as silly as possible and dance with as much enthusiasm as possible.  Don’t worry, it was recorded by multiple Thai people so that they could have permanent memories of that group of Americans that came to one of their parties once.  IRB-ing would be the Peace Corps term (it’s an acronym, what more do you expect from the government).  One of the male trainees, Jeff, had some old ladies after him to dance together which was absolutely hilarious.  The table wouldn’t let him sit down without having whiskey or stand up without dancing.  I’m sure this kind of thing won’t be a fun and excited after two years, but for a first party, I had fun.  It was ridiculous, filled with laughter, and very Thai.  Just part of the Peace Corps experience here.  I’m excited for the ride.

 

‘Home’life.

 

I couldn't help myself

We made it!!!  It’s our new home sweet home.  I’ve felt so welcomed by the Thai people (that I’ve come across so far) as well as the Peace Corps staff.  The four of us stepped off the plane to real leis and the cheerful greetings of reunification with our other trainees.  They had us go through the government/diplomatic line at immigration which was pretty nice boost to the ego.  I couldn’t really see much out of the window on our bus ride to our training site so I decided to sleep.

The pear/apple hybrid I encountered in my welcome bag on our 1970s era bus

 

Yes, I can now decide to fall asleep, and by decide I mean surrender to the lump of skin that is my jet lagged body.  I’ve never had such a reaction like this before.  It’s magnified by the fact that we started training the next morning at 8am (and we finally settled into our rooms around 3 am) and were thrown a large amount of information of Peace Corps policies and the like.  Luckily, many of us seem to be on the same page in this regard.  The afternoon started with a medical overview given by Dr. Rit (who is awesome, yes I could tell in his first speech), our first immunization (first of the rabies series to protect against the soi dogs that rule the rice fields/streets), and our first Thai language lesson. I can say hello, my name is Erin, and what is your name? That is if I can actually remember the right tones to it, I might be saying Apple, Erin is you, snake, your snake?  Which also means that I remembered the words to begin with…I should be studying at night, but my body just seems to knock itself out once I get within a 45 degree angle to the ground.

Another vital thing we learned was how to properly wai. Waing is what the Thai do instead of shaking hands. You hold your hands in front of you like in prayer, offering a sa-wat-dee-ka, and bowing your head slowly until the you touch your nose to your index finger. We are meeting/introducing ourselves to the governor tomorrow…..rerealizing that I’m going to have to do that tomorrow, shoot.

After a lunch of rice (more and more rice) we took off to our ‘hub village’ about twenty minutes away via badass bus.  I can’t begin to explain this bus we were on, it looked really cool however my lungs will tell you another story.  Anyway though, as we were driving there, checking out the markets, houses, and people, someone said “guys, we’re IN Thailand now.”  And it was so true.  It still is, but it really feels like it now. We’ll be meeting back in this hub a few days a week, the other days we will be off in our villages with 10-15 other volunteers for intensive language and cross cultural training.  Like who to wai and how.  (I would like to interject here to point out that we’ll be moving into our homestays on Saturday (as in two days from now) and all I know how to say thus far is “Hello, my name is Erin, what is your name?”  Let that sink in for a minute……..this is going to be, ‘interesting.’)

Between yesterday and today, I learned more about bikes than I have in my entire life.  We were issued all kinds of equipment from a really awesome electric green helmet (groovy), an inflatable tire, a mobile bike pump, and all kinds of do-whats and thingamajigs (I’d like to point out that the red line is not coming up under the word ‘thingamajig’ meaning that it’s accepted in Webster’s dictionary, something I would not have guessed in a million years) that I’m still not entirely sure what their purpose is.  But I learned how to change a flat tire, with the assistance of the Thai Bike Asia man that pretty much got exasperated with me every 3.7 seconds.  We went in our bike groups for a ‘big ride’ of ‘7 km’. I put it in quotes because I’m not sure how much I believe that we actually went that far.  Needless to say, our butts are a bit sore this evening as we did many more mini rides throughout the day.  Today school was in session so we got to wave to lots and lots of kids as they would shout hello to us and run away.  There was some frisbees thrown as well as catch and it made me smile even just as I watched.  Overall, it was a successful day.  Don’t worry, more fun stuff is on the horizon, I have a test tomorrow!  Maybe I should study for that as well….oops.

They topped yesterday off with this welcoming (traditional) ceremony that had the trainers wish away all the anxieties and troubles out of our bodies and help the soul come back to its rightful place.  They do this by tying a piece of white string around your wrist (my left because I’m female).  At one point I got chills from the soothing words of one of our Thai language instructors as she tied it around my wrist, it just might have also been from the air conditioning.

The Peace Corps staff prepared a welcome dinner on the terrace of our hotel that was absolutely beautiful.  Being a water lover, the fact that our hotel is right next to the river and the wat (temple) to boot makes me a happy camper/trainee.  Well for as long as I could stay awake.  I experienced something that I’ll be getting a lot of the next two years:  celebratory Thai karaoke.  It kept me awake, a foreboding foreshadowing if you ask me.  There were lots of laughs (dancing queen, I love rock ‘n roll, and my table’s number) and even more yawns and people falling asleep in our chairs, so it was off to bed.  I stayed up to a whopping 8:45 pm, a new record, thank you very much.

I really enjoyed myself yesterday and today. We’re all really bonding as a group.  I think it’s amazing that anyone can sit down with anyone else and be able to hold a conversation without (much) awkwardness.  We have a fantastic little group that I can’t wait to get to know over the next two years.  I’m kind of having trouble turning my brain back on to remember the language stuff we’re learning, but hopefully that will change once we’re constantly in classes.  Speaking of brain malfunctions though, I’m starting to sway in front of the computer as I’ve been resisting sleep for the past 6 hours (yes, that means I was ready for sleep at 3 pm).  Hope to check in again before moving into my homestay, internet will be a bit sketchy at that point.  Hope everyone is well around the world!!

 

Technical Difficulties.

 

This is what happens when you tell 66 Peace Corps trainees their flight was delayed....

 

But don't worry, there were tons of birds to keep us company.... and poop on us

 

 

Before we even left Philadelphia, there were rumors of a delayed departure.  It wasn’t until the ‘airport leaders’ went in to find out where we were supposed to be that the big wrench was thrown into our plans.  They saved the day, along with Ali and the other helpful Delta-ites and got us going in the right direction (without anyone stopping in Seattle for two days or anything else of the sort)….after a lovely sevenish hours hanging out in the old Pan-Am terminal with no food facilities.  Yes, I’m bitter.  It worked out in the end as Delta gave us lunch stipends (six whole dollars) of which I went buck wild with….

 

Last American meal for two years!

I got the new security pat down and I can say from personal experience, my guard got a little too frisky.  It’s all part of international travel though.  While the Delta employees were really great in getting everything (like all of our tickets, connections, transportation, hotel, meal vouchers etc.) taken care of, the flight wasn’t the most comfortable I’ve ever been on.  Good thing we have another one to go on tomorrow.  There are four of us that couldn’t be scheduled on the new connection with everyone (guess who is one of them?), so we’ll be traveling more independently than the whole group.  We’re a bit overwhelming by taking up huge amounts of space and everyone is chatty building up the volume levels.  It’ll be nice to only be responsible for a small group and get to know some new faces.  The Japanese branch of Delta was amazingly efficient and got our flight completely taken care of very quickly.  Having a native-born Japanese man (shout out to Kanji!) probably helped as he acted as our translator and general Japanese guide.  Try and say that five times fast.  The delay has actually really worked out because we get to sleep in tomorrow and adjust to the jet lag a bit.  The space-like, futuristic atmosphere is everywhere in Japan from the heated toilet seats to the ‘massage theaters’ we came across in our hotel’s lobby.  Unfortunately, having absolutely no Yen to speak of, we didn’t get to try those bad boys out, but I wouldn’t say no to a good Thai massage right about now!  Being tall is already sticking out in minor places like trying to wash my hands in the sink of our hotel bathrooms….they barely pass my knees, no joke.  Landing in Japan has built up some great anticipation and it’s finally sinking in that tomorrow(ish) I’ll be in Thailand!  This travel experience has been an adventure thus far, but I can say with complete honesty that I know that I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

 

Speaks for itself....