Graduation, Goodbyes and whole lot of LOVE

Graduation, Goodbyes and whole lot of LOVE
Yesterday was a long, emotional, heart-breaking, phenomenal, awe-inspiring and exciting day.  We had our TESOL end of course test early in the morning, ate as a group by the beach, and then came back to have our incredibly informal graduation (my kind of graduation). Being out of school for several years now has allowed me to forget what it feels like to be nervous for a test. I’m sure just like in college, I didn’t study near as much as I should have, but I passed! I have completed the TESOL course…I am now officially considered a teacher!

After we finished our graduation ceremony, we headed back to Baan Ton Mai (the apartment-type establishment that we have been staying at for the past month). Majority of the group headed to Bangkok yesterday because they are working with a specific, larger agency and have to go through an orientation before they begin teaching. They packed up the rest of their belongings while we waited to send them off with a proper goodbye. Aside from telling my students goodbye when I head back to the states (or to my next country), telling these people goodbye will be one of the hardest things I’ll have to do.  I have made a huge connection with some of them that will stay with me forever. We laughed together, cried together, shared some of our most intimate stories and drank more Chang and Hong Thong than we probably should have. I didn’t think I’d cry as I hugged them all goodbye, but looking back, I realize that was very naïve of me. I looked at Richard, one of the first people I met when I arrived (and definitely one of my favorites), and the tears started flowing uncontrollably. The tears kept falling as I hugged everyone tightly and wished them all good luck.

Earlier this week, the owner of Xplore Asia asked for some of the teachers that would still be here for the remainder of the week to join some Thai children for a free dinner.  These children are in an English hospitality camp and part of that meant to spend some time with an English-speaking person for a couple of hours. The dinner was scheduled for 5:30pm on Wednesday and our group heading to Bangkok was set to leave at 5:00pm.  After telling my friends goodbye, the last thing I wanted to do was put on a happy face and try and fight through a language barrier. Little did I know at the time, this will be one of the best experiences I will have in Thailand. I unequivocally believe that and I still have many months left in this beautiful country.

As the group of 8 of us girls walked up to the hotel, I was still wiping away residual tears from our recent goodbyes. We spoke to the leader of the English camp, were given brief instructions on what to do with our group of 3 or 4 teenage Thai children, and eventually met my group of 4 kids (1 boy and 3 girls). I, not normally a timid person, felt a bit shy meeting these children. What was I going to say to them? How was I going to try and create conversation when I knew their English was mediocre at best? The shyness dissipated after our first selfie.

We walked to the night market (one of my favorite places) a couple of blocks from the hotel. There is one girl in particular, Joy is her name (age 16), from the group who was not shy and took a liking to me instantly.  She held my hand as we walked to the market. She asked me questions in English and I tried to respond with as simple an answer as possible. One of the first questions she asked me was “Why did you come to Thailand?” I laughed internally at that question because I knew the answer was even too difficult to articulate to myself. I told her I was there to teach Thai children, which of course is true, but there is more to it than that. Joy and I are now friends on Facebook so I’m confident that her English will improve rapidly and I’m hopeful that we will be able to remain friends and one day I can explain the full reason for my desires to teach in Thailand. I think by then, I’ll know the answer myself.

Still in that phase of trying to work through the awkwardness of the language barrier, I asked the kids if they wanted to get some food. One of the girls, Bew is her name (Thai children come up with nicknames for themselves and I believe Bew is intended to be short for “beautiful”), stopped to get rotee. Not to get too far off topic, but rotees are one of my favorite food items here in Thailand. They are similar to crepes with egg and banana in them and doused with chocolate sauce and some other type of Carnation sweet goodness. I ate a couple of pieces of Bew’s Rotee and we kept walking, making the occasional small talk. The kids then asked me if I like (insert Thai food word here). I had no idea what they were talking about but I heard the word “spicy” come out of their mouths. I smiled brightly and exclaimed, “yes, I love spicy!” The search began for this specific dish! I’m still not certain of the name of the entree that we were looking for but we ended up eating an amazing meal! I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I have not been too happy with the food here, but I have definitely adjusted accordingly and I’m starting to crave it on a regular basis now. Joy took the lead and picked out what we were going to eat. She ordered two things of papaya salad (one with egg), and two different chicken dishes. One of the chicken dishes was different parts of the chicken cut up and covered in enchanting spices and sauce. The other chicken dish was chicken cut finely mixed with herbs, red onion, and what appeared to be fresh mint leaves scattered throughout.  This was what I would compare to lettuce wraps back in the states but exponentially better!  We used cabbage as the bottom piece, placed a leaf of some sort, a piece of cucumber and small pieces of what appeared to be asparagus and then sprinkled the chicken on top. Without a doubt, this has been the best thing I’ve eat here in Thailand so far…my stomach is grumbling just thinking about it now. Alongside each of these dishes, Joy ordered a side of sticky rice for the 5 of us. We began to eat family style, reaching in and picking out small portions of each and putting them onto our plates. We began to speak more English and Thai, laughing intermittently at the lack of understanding and my total inability to say the Thai words properly. Thais use a great deal of inflection on their words. One word could have 5 different meanings if you don’t say the inflection just as it is supposed to sound. That is a major challenge!  They taught me many Thai words, regrettably most I’ve already forgotten, but it was inspiring watching them teach ME.  I also learned that Ping (age 15: the youngest girl), is very good at Math, that is her favorite subject. Joy and I agreed that we weren’t too good at math. 

Thais are known for their friendly demeanor and I have experienced that routinely throughout my stay here up to this point. One thing I both appreciated greatly and found very interesting was how much they wanted to take care of me. At this particular restaurant, there was a little tray stand next to our table that held a bucket of ice. Joy stood up, grabbed our glasses and began to fill them with ice and water. She did this several times throughout the duration of the meal. I enjoy taking care of people too and I wanted them to know I wanted to return the act of their kindness. I noticed their water glasses were getting low so I took it upon myself to refill their glasses with ice and water. I’m not sure if I have mentioned this in the past, but it is customary for Thais to “Y” as a form of respect. As soon as I refilled their water, I noticed them “Y” me. I’ve been respected in the states but there is no feeling that compares to watching these extraordinary children show me this form of respect.

After dinner, we continued to walk around the night market. There are many stands set up with various items from clothes (the infamous elephant pants) to jewelry to backpacks to souvenirs. Bew stopped to look at some bracelets. I offered to purchase each of the girls a bracelet and Teung (the boy’s name-age 17)) anything he’d like. I’m certain they didn’t understand what I was saying, but Joy said that Bew was going to buy the bracelet. I tried repeatedly to pay for it but that just wasn’t happening. We walked ahead a bit and Bew came over and gave me the bracelet. Unbeknownst to me, she was trying to buy this for me all along.  Reeling from the emotions of having to say goodbye to my friends hours earlier, I began to cry again. This time tears of joy.  So much love expressed in such a short amount of time. What I had expected to be one of my worst days in Thailand quickly turned into one of the best days I’ve had in my entire life. We continued our walk and Joy asked me to spell my name in her phone. I typed it out and she disappeared into the crowd of people. She came back shortly with a key chain with my name on it. We walked further and Joy bought me another small souvenir representing a temple in Hua Hin, that will undoubtedly hold a spot on a shelf in all of my homes to come.  I love these children, and not because they showered me in gifts, but because they showed me respect, kindness and best of all…love. As our time together came to an end, I believe I hugged them each 10 times and cried at least 5 more. When I walked over to Tueng (who was the quietest the whole night) to give him a hug, he hugged me, picked me up and squeezed me tightly. We laughed and laughed (I’m sure I probably started crying again), and we said our goodbyes. If this evening was at all indicative of what is to come for my teaching experience, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to leave Thailand.

 We have received confirmation that we will indeed be placed in Rangsit. We leave, by van, on Saturday morning to meet our agent to go over our upcoming living accommodations and discuss a bit more about the school.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *