Friday Five

Five Photos From September

Pictures don’t do rainy season sunsets justice

My coteacher’s father’s funeral

There are times I wish my life were as simple and fun as theirs

I think it’s a sign of how far I’ve changed throughout Peace Corps that I take a picture and brush it away instead of immediately exiting the bathroom at site of a cockroach and doing an anti-roach rain dance

The clouds in Thailand are even fantastic at night

Rain, rain come back again every day!

Forest Gump said that ‘One day it just started raining and didn’t stop for four months…’ He did make some correct descriptions about the kinds of rain, but I don’t know if I’d go as far to say it starts, goes for four months and then stops. Ok, maybe kinda, sorta. This video is some thoughts about rainy season, a little about weather in general for Thailand, and how it affects my opinion of when to travel to Thailand.

The Delicacies of Thai Weather

The average temperature in Thailand is hot with a side of sticky humidity. That’s what all the guidebooks tell you and when I first arrived in country, I definitely agreed. It’s amazing how much climate impacts a culture and the personalities of the people living there. Before I came to Thailand, my perfect day was sunny with minimal cloud cover and a general distaste for rain. Now it’s quite the opposite.

Sixteen months ago when we arrived as the fresh-faced Trainees that we were, I couldn’t believe it was considered ‘cold’ season. How could it be, it was still hot! This led me down thought ruminations of a sort of what the hell am I going to do when it’s hot season?!

We got to hot season and guess what? It was still hot. Maybe a little hotter than before, but the only difference I really felt was at night when it remained the same temperature as daylight hours until about 2am when it dropped two degrees and I could manage some semblance of sleep. My fan remained on the highest level constantly pointed directly at me. If you need a good explanation of ‘heat indications’ for Volunteers in Thailand, Jeffrey wrote a blog titled just that.

This continued through rainy season until the days of downpours arrived and when the storm started you could feel drops of five to ten degrees. To me, it made life more comfortable and I could sleep at night with things actually touching my body. This was the Thai reaction.

Why yes, Mother and son are both wearing winter coats and long pants. The boy has a beanie on too. I looked to make sure the exact degree, it was 82F.

I wasn’t exactly the fan of rainy season that some of my PC friends were, but we had settled in a companionable rhythm. I thought this was as good as it could get, not quite drenched in dripping sweat and sleeping through the night with a light covering. And then cold season came through and I fell head over heels.

Cold season came breezing into town and capturing my attention. At first I tried to deny it. It was a foolish endeavor and not one I plan to repeat. It was glorious. I came home from my October vacation and within a few weeks, I was wearing sweaters, my hair down, and hats with the best of them. It was then I realized how much of a cold weather pussy I had become. I mean, that shit was teeth chattering, swath myself in a blanket to eat breakfast, and shiver cold. We’re talking mid-sixties, low seventies here. I told you I was a pussy.

Now that I’ve survived another hot season, I couldn’t help but notice how much harder I took it this time around. Look back through any posts through April/May and I was pretty much a zombie lacking motivation for anything. The only explanation I could come up with was that because cold season actually felt truly cold to me, hot season hit me so much harder this year. I’m noticing the trend continuing with the turn of rainy season.

With the overcast days and sporadic storms starting, I feel the chill in the air with the breeze. Outside of battling with the huge influx of bug population, rainy season and I are back together for the long-term. At least until next November when I probably will cheat on the lovely rain again.

A nearly daily site during rainy season.

It’s taken me sixteen months to notice and appreciate the slight differences of hot and what seasons are like in Thailand. Though I wouldn’t put it in the same ballpark as autumn (sigh) and the gang we enjoy in the non-jungle part of the world, it’s not one block of sticky heat like I once thought. I’m surprised and pleased that Thailand still has quite a lot to teach me.

The Saga Continues…

Yes, I’ve told you about the flooding, but gee whilickers, who knew it was going to have such an effect on my daily life? I went to school yesterday and taught an epic lesson (not really, it was an easy-peasy soft-toss lesson to get them warmed up to English again) before there was a meeting of some sort called. I didn’t pay attention at all, but for once wish I had because important stuff was going down this time around.

Turns out being in one of the ‘affected’ provinces in Thailand means that even if your roads are bare bones dry with ‘cold’ season moving in, your school might be closing for an extra ten days until the 15th of November. It could be extended if it gets worse, it could be shortened. I was told not to go too far in case school opens back up again (with all the flooding, where could I go?).

I was given two reasons why we closed:  to help others in our provincial city/Bangkok and the decision came higher up than us. I can see the idea of going to assist those struggling right now, many of my friends and students did just that over school break. However ‘they told us to’ seems devoid of most logic, but this is Thailand, it’s normal.

The frustrating thing about this (and I mean frustrating because it seriously cuts into my free time) is that the ‘make-up’ for these days means the next ten Saturdays of mine are going to be spent at school. Yummy. I haven’t broached the subject with my coteachers yet, too afraid of their answers, but even though I don’t want to, I would feel guilty if I didn’t go. I already have Friday that I’m not required to go to school, they seem to think this is a free day. I seem to think it’s sometimes the hardest day of the week because it typically means I’m getting myself into awkward situations. Should I be encouraging the differences between us even more though? Even if it means no Thanksgiving celebration with other Volunteers, three-day holiday weekends in early December, or the much-needed space I need from my students in those three-day blocks.

The thing that I’d like to point out to my Thai people though is that if we sat down and had real school for ten days, like actual learning, teachers teaching instead of going to x,y, and z, and kids not cleaning, giving their teacher a massage, or other chores of the teachers, while they should be learning, that could easily give us a month to go help flood victims in the surrounding areas. Alas, this is Thailand, that’s not how it works here.

The other bit I’m realizing his how much of our supplies in my village come from Bangkok. In most of the convenience stores in town, there’s hardly anything, especially so in 7/11. The shelves are extremely bare. This is usually a spot for teenagers to hang out, get snacks, and chat (especially after school). Now hardly anyone is going in to buy things (though there’s a plethora of things you can pay for at 7/11 though, like your bills or in my case, add baht to your phone). We no longer have any sort of ‘fresh’ things like milk, bread, or most snacks.

I say all of this because it really is making me change the way I live in my village, but it’s not bad here at all. Everyone is banding together. There are tons of Bangkokians and the like moving in with family and friends here and are truly welcomed with open arms. My friend Pi-Chaai alone has six people staying with her and there’s no tension at all, she’s happy to have a place for them to stay. We spend days chatting with her visiting friends and family, showing them around to our favorite spots, and they’ve accepted me as part of the group (or should I say I’ve accepted them?). I can usually spot the other new people into town when occupying a favored location of mine and the ‘fresh’ stares start (not the ‘hey there’s Erin, what’s she up to’ kind, but the ‘who is this farang and what is she doing here’ kind. I get an eensy bit annoyed with this because they’re here visiting my town and act like I’m the one that doesn’t belong).

This is the worst flooding in Thailand for nearly half a century. It’s claimed the lives of more than 350 people, disrupted more than 2 million, and caused the country billions in damage. But together, we’re moving on. We’re working together to make it through this disaster. Thailand, I’ve got full faith in you, even if you do make me teach for the next ten Saturdays.

Entering Tourist World: Destination Thailand

Sometimes I wish the Western World had never discovered the stunningly beautiful beaches of Southern Thailand. When I make the trek there, I feel like I’m leaving the Thailand I know and entering some kind of forgotten universe of my past. Sometimes though, it’s nice to go back and stomp around the old grounds, and hey, the view is nothing to sneeze at either.

Being a beach person, I knew that my first long vacation that I took in Thailand was going to be to the crystal clear ocean views that this country is known for. And then I got a better offer. My friend in Chiang Mai teaches at a fancy-smancy international school and as if that isn’t cool enough, one of her student’s father offered to host a few of the teachers and friends at the resort he owns in Surat Thani. New philosophy: just say yes, ask questions later.

The view directly outside of the resort

Elephant Hills is known as Thailand’s first luxury tent resort. Located near the phenomenal Khao Sok National Park (where there is the most rainforest in Thailand), the scenery surrounding you is stunning. Everything is taken care of for guests from activities/a planned program, guides speaking fantastic English, transportation to and from everywhere, and I’m fairly certain the ‘tents’ were nicer than my room at site (well, cleaner anyway, and less bugs too).

Palm trees, elephants, mountains, does it get better than this?

We stayed for three nights, four days and our ‘special’ program had us busy. The guides were used to the kind of high-paying guests this place normally attracts so it took a little easing on both sides. For example, they told us not to worry, they had boatmen to canoe us down the river. My friend tried it for a while and as much as we enjoyed the zig-zag track and going through branches, I think that was when we decided to let the professionals take over. The ‘elephant experience’ was my favorite thing because we got to feed, wash, and interact with elephants with our own hands. I had never touched an elephant before this. It was awesome.

We watched them wash first before moving on to the other elephants

A post-dinner, post-shower snack

Thank you elephant man for capturing this shot

Thank you Kailyn for this photo

There was lots of kayaking, a jungle trek, a Burmese ‘junk’ boat ride, and Mangrove forest speed boat exploration (I’m not making this stuff up). We even spent a night on this amazingly clear reservoir in the floating luxury tents. Each tent had its own solar panel to power it, the only thing keeping us from drifting away were some anchors and ropes to land. I really enjoyed our time there as well because of how peaceful it was. We were the only guests there for that night and besides the tents, it’s just jungle. At night, without any other lights, the stars were absolutely phenomenal. We heard monkeys and gibbons, saw snakes hanging out in trees, and best of all, the bugs stayed out of my crisp white sheet bed (heaven). Well, that and we could jump off our deck right into the water from our tent. As the brochure says, ‘Your soul will be reawakened.’

Thai shot from the viewpoint of the reservoir

Waiting for our rescue boat

The floating luxury tents, nothing but rainforest and lake surrounding us

Sunset after a hard afternoon kayak

I love the colors

Inside our tent, cleaner and less bug population than my room

Kailyn reawakening her soul in the AM

 

I’m not sure what it all would cost if we tried to do it on our own, I was just so glad I got the opportunity to see not only such a stunning place, but one that does good too. Elephant Hills helps to support local schools and even built a library at one of them. The only thing they asked from us was to donate Thai books to add to the beautiful building. The Chiang Mai guys took care of this, but when the resort owner asked for people to volunteer at one of these schools, I’m thinking it would be nice to get into something like this, though it might have to wait until after I’m done with Peace Corps because of the scheduling of the school system.

Rested and relaxed in Surat, it was time for us to go to the island hopping. Leaving the other teachers/friends, Kailyn and I headed off to the famous Phi Phi paradise. Though it’s still technically rainy season (and therefore ‘low’ tourist time), tons of young people made it out to this Hollywood movie-worthy background. Climbing up to a lookout and wanting some adventure, we got totally lost and went up and down a mountain or two, but were rewarded with a totally different part of the island that most farangs end up. You know, like where the Thai people live. We further employed our new ‘yes’ mantra and had our first party night out in a long time for both of us (seriously, being a teacher is exhausting what ever kind of school you’re in, I wish I had given my HS teachers a lot more respect now that I’m on the other end of it). There’s more to be said about the vibe of the area, but I want to save it for an upcoming post about the tourist side of Thailand versus where Volunteers live. I’ll leave you with photos to make up for it.

Viewpoint of Phi-Phi, I can't imagine how awesome it would be on a non-rainy day

You can see why millions of people come here every year

Blue water, white sand, yes please

To top off what was already a grand time, I was reunited with my Volunteer friends and let me tell you, it felt so good. My beloved Rai Ley was waiting for me and I got to see another side of it than the climbers paradise that I experienced with RF. We ate, chatted, ate, kayaked, ate, chatted some more, snorkeled (my first time ever!), and yes, ate some more. We even had ‘our place’ we frequented and didn’t get tired of hearing the same acoustic guitar man every night. There may have been some dancing, no I didn’t partake this round. Unfortunately, Thai men don’t really know how to put Lady Gaga to acoustic yet, but once they do, you’ll know where to find me.

Back on Rai Ley, recognize that rock?

This cat had a little too much to drink at Happy Hour last night

Outside of catching up with other Volunteers, my favorite part was snorkeling. How have I not done this before? I felt like I was trespassing in this underwater world where all you can hear is nothing but your own inhale-exhale pattern (which I forgot to do sometimes) and just the creatures to keep you company (unless the long tail boat runs you over). I truly loved it and gained a much vaster appreciation for the aquarium, though this was way cooler.  Apparently Rai Ley isn’t that great of an area for snorkeling, but I was keeping myself entertained with the ‘small’ amount of fish I saw (the other guys had gone somewhere else seeing hundreds in one glance) and watching my feet create mini-earthquakes in the sand as they touched down. Yes, I had to tell myself to stop smiling in my mask because it let water in. Total count: at least 100 fish, one sting ray, four crabs, and one nasty looking, spiky sea urchin. Note to self, buy snorkel mask immediately.

It just never feels real

Hanging with some puans

As awesome as it was to be sitting in a beach paradise in my bikini in the middle of October, this vacation didn’t totally cure me out of the down I’ve been going through. I still have very little patience with my (now) eleven year old host sister (seriously Mom, if I was like this when I was her age, I really need to upgrade on the Mother’s Day presents for not murdering me, thanks for that) and get frustrated when Thais expect me to be them. I do definitely feel much more motivated about school/PC things and have a time and then mapping unit planned for my older kids, maybe I should get going on that whole lesson planning thing. I’ll always be making a clip video too, that’s on the list, which is starting to loom. And for all the gorgeous scenery, I was really glad to come back home. Every time I plan a trip, I count down until I jetpack my way out of the village, but every time I leave, I can’t wait to get back. I don’t know how I’m ever going to make it permanent.

On my way out, I just had to capture one more shot...I'll be back

More Things About the Flooding

I would never post asking for money unless I believed completely in the cause. This is one of them. I mentioned the record flooding presently ravaging my beautiful Peace Corps host country in a previous post, but I forgot to mention to go into detail about something vastly more important. Ayutthaya, where I spent the first two and a half months in Thailand is one of the worst hit provinces in Thailand. Homes, places of work, and ancient sites have been totally destroyed. People are confined to their homes (second floor if they have one) unless they have a boat. There are talks that it will take months for the water to fully drain. In short, it’s looking bleak.

I've been here, this picture doesn't even compute properly into my memory

A UNESCO world heritage site

A Volunteer's house from my neighborhood, her house is up on a mini-hill/driveway off of the road and the water is still creeping up, the sad thing is, they're one of the lucky ones

To help our families, some of the Volunteers in my group have set up a website to make direct contributions to them. Any money raised will be split 66 ways and given to our families to help them rebuild their lives. This idea stemmed from the fact that we are not yet allowed to travel to Ayutthaya because of the dangers of getting in and out. When we can go, I can guarantee that a group will be going back to help our families in any way that we can.

My host parents

I would not have made it through PST without this woman

Can't you see the family resemblance?

They may not be your family, but they are mine. Please help any way that you can.

Your Thailand vs. My Thailand

Everyone should have realized by now that Thailand is a tropical country. In my part of Thailand, I have rainy, cold, and hot seasons. Yummy. Keep in mind that as part of living outdoors, there is nowhere to truly escape the humid 100 degree heat. April is so miserable that Thailand has a holiday dedicated to dumping water on people. In that I give you your cooling methods vs. mine.

Air conditioned hotel rooms...that must be nice.

vs.

My only weapons against hot season: a fan, cooling powder, and a bucket to represent cold showers

Whatever, I’m glad it’s rainy season and I only take two showers a day now instead of four. Suck it, air conditioning.