Orientation Week: Part 2

Orientation Week: Part 2

Thursday was one for the books, and that is putting it very lightly. We got picked up from the main road at 8am and headed to the school to learn Thai language for three hours. It was very enjoyable, and our teacher was the kind of person who captivates you into learning more. We focused mostly on simple phrases, such as:

“How are you?” (sà-baai dee măi)

“Good” (sà-baai dee kâ)

“What is your name?” (kun chêu a-rai)

“Where are you from?” (kun maa jàak năi)

“I am from…” (rao chêu …)

“I understand” (kâo jai láew)

“I do not understand” (mâi khâo jai)

“How much is this?” (raa-kaa tâo rài?)

“Where is the toilet?” (hông náam yòo têe năi?)

I have managed to retain at least half of the information we learned in our first Thai lesson, and I am hoping to be able to hold a decent (beginner) conversation in Thai before leaving. Once we were done absorbing some Thai, we went to lunch for an hour and then headed off to Khao Tao Temple. It was at this temple, about 15 minutes from our school, that we experienced the kind of event that you simply cannot make up.

Khao Tao contains a temple complex with several caves, as well as Buddha statues and shrines. After our group hiked to the top of the hill to see the biggest Buddha statue, we all took pictures overlooking the ocean and then followed our Thai agent to another area of the complex to meditate. We gave our well wishes to the Buddha/monks and performed a ritual to honor them. I felt so relaxed after meditation that I almost fell asleep, but we were awoken by our next task, which was to go into one of the caves to be blessed personally by a monk!

We walked into his small “lair” and sat down on the floor in front of him (feet facing behind us, of course). He spent about 45 minutes explaining to us how Thai culture is different from other cultures because the Thai people focus on small acts of kindness in every day life in order to reach a fulfilled sense of self. He also emphasized how important it is to thank our parents for bringing us into this world, and that nothing should be left unsaid. He believes that it is crucial to respect your elders, and in Thai culture it is very common for sons and daughters to put their lives on hold whenever their aging parents may need them. I thought this was a very interesting concept, and it expressed how much age and wisdom are valued in Thailand. Once he had finished his speech, the monk passed around bracelets to represent our time with him, and he gave us his blessing while sprinkling water on us from a distance (he is not allowed to physically touch women, so we had to sit a foot or two away from him at all times). At this point, it is normal for people to make donations to the monk and say a peaceful goodbye to him. However, our experience did not go as planned…

After blessing us all with the water, the monk pointed at Jared (one of the guys in our group) and encouraged him to stand up and come to the front of the room for a demonstration. He asked Jared to put both of his arms out straight to the sides, and balance on one leg in a position similar to the tree pose. Then, he pushed down on Jared’s left arm with one of his hands and told him to try to use resistance against him. The monk made it look easy, pushing Jared’s arm down in one swift motion. From there, he grabbed a weighted stone of some kind and clipped it to the inside of Jared’s shirt. Once again, he asked Jared to get into the same position as before, and he began pushing down on Jared’s arm. But this time, he was putting a LOT more pressure on Jared, and we realized later on that the trick came down to where he was distributing his weight. The first time, it was easy to push Jared’s arm down because he was focusing on the forearm, but the second time it was much more difficult for him because he was focusing on the bicep/shoulder area. In order to emphasize how much “stronger” Jared had gotten from this “magic stone,” the Monk used both of his hands on Jared’s arm/shoulder, fighting against the resistance as much as he could. Within a few seconds, we all heard a loud pop, and Jared was wincing in pain after making an audible sigh. As he tried to contain his obvious agony, he said, “It’s popped out.” At first, I didn’t grasp the weight of the situation, but it only took me a few seconds to realize that his shoulder had actually popped out of its socket!.. Everyone in the room was on edge from that moment on, and what made the situation that much scarier was that the monk did not seem to understand how serious Jared’s injury was. Because of the language barrier, he was convinced that Jared was simply complaining about the pressure he had put on his shoulder, so the monk began to massage Jared’s dislocated shoulder. He also attempted to pop it back into place a couple times before we convinced him that he could not help us in this particular situation… It was very difficult to watch, and the air in the room was dead still as we all waited for someone to react. Jared needed to go to the hospital, and he needed to be taken care of by a doctor. As I sat and witnessed this entire scenario play out in front of me, all I could think about was how unreal it all seemed. Did Jared actually just get his shoulder dislocated by a Buddhist monk in the temples of Thailand? Yes; yes, he did.

Apparently Jared had dislocated his shoulder four times in the past, but there was no way for any of us to expect it to happen! Especially since none of us really understood what the monk was doing during his activity to begin with. I still can’t believe that the monk pointed Jared out of all people to demonstrate how “magical” the stone was, but I suppose some things just cannot be explained. Either way, our entire group will have a very interesting story to tell for years to come, and Jared gets the first person perspective to go along with it.

From that moment on, our group was slightly shaken up, but it only made us closer, and we kept tabs on Jared for the entire day. As we left the temple (leaving zero tips for the monk because he clearly felt awful about the whole situation and more or less kicked us out immediately after), Jared and Declan went to the hospital with a couple of our superiors. The rest of us boarded the Song Tao to help out at the local dog shelter, Rescue Paws. We were given a tour of the grounds, and Jaco explained to us that we could volunteer at Rescue Paws while taking our TESOL course in Hua Hin. I am hoping to participate in the volunteer process with Rescue Paws, and I think I should be able to make at least a couple more trips down there before leaving. Jaco and his team are definitely tackling an important issue, with several packs of 30-180 street dogs in existence throughout the Hua Hin area alone. They have organized a “catch and release” program for spaying and neutering, and they are a non-profit organization that depends mainly on donations to stay afloat. While we were there, we met some adorable puppies and several well-tempered dogs. We also helped clean up trash in the area around the rescue, which is important to building a safer environment for the rescued dogs to live. I will be spreading the news about Rescue Paws while I am in Thailand, and once I get home I will encourage people to donate the smallest bit to this great cause. Jaco informed us that a spay/neuter costs about 300baht in Thailand (~$10 USD), and vaccinations are another 300baht. Compared to prices in the U.S., donations to support this movement not only go a lot further, but they are much more reasonable for the average person to make a huge difference.

On Friday, we had our school and agent talks with Mike, helping to prepare us for just about anything. Since none of us know where we will be placed or what age group we will be teaching, Mike spent a lot of time going over the different regions of Thailand and what to expect from each. It was interesting to hear about the quirky aspects of each area, as well as positives and negatives of living/working there. During this time, I was also pulled away for 15 minutes to talk to Paang (our Thai teaching agent) about my preferences. I started my answer to each question by emphasizing that I was open to just about anything, but that I would prefer to live in the north for my placement (near the mountains or in the northeast), because it seems to be more centered around culture. I also think that the north has a slightly cooler climate, with more opportunities to do the types of outdoor activities that I’m definitely interested in doing while I’m here (hiking, biking, running, etc.). Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the time I get to spend in Hua Hin near the beach with an amazing group of people, but with the constant heat and stickiness of living in such a hot and humid climate, I will be ready to take a slight break from it during my placement. And if I get placed in the north, I still plan to beach hop around the southern parts of Thailand once my semester is over. I want to experience as much of this country as I can while I’m here, and fully engage myself in the best aspects of each region. I would prefer to teach younger children, because I think my creative mind is geared toward making lesson plans with lots of activities and simple structure, but I told Paang that I would still be willing to teach older students if I were offered a job at a high school. It will be interesting to see if any of my preferences are met, but I am going into this with very little expectations and an open mind.

The highlight of Friday happened after our long day in the classroom. Once we had finished our final Thai language lesson, the entire TESOL group was ready for the weekend. And to top it all off, my roommate’s birthday just happened to fall on Friday as well! A bunch of us went out to the bars/clubs, and we fell in love with the slightly crowded streets of Hua Hin. We basically took over the first bar we visited, playing beer pong and listening to music on the second floor. Then, we headed off to a karaoke bar for awhile, where we watched some of our friends sing songs in front of a live band. We didn’t last long there before wanting to dance, so we went to a club named Click, which was packed with people from all over the world. I met a guy who was half Australian, half Chinese, and we hit it off right away. It was definitely a night to remember, and I think everyone had a really good time. I was just happy to have experienced a night out with our entire group, where we got to finally relax and have a few drinks/be goofy together. My experience so far has definitely exceeded my expectations, and I welcome the challenges that lay ahead with the start of our TESOL course.

Our lovely home for the next month! (Baan Jaco)

Khao Thao statues
My Buddha (Tuesday) based on the day I was born
The Giant Buddha at Khao Tao Temple
The View from The Buddha's peak
Baan Jaco at the Top
Team Blue! Xplore Asia

Song Thao Dave!

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